North Korea Visit Signals Greater Military Ties to Iran


With the latest sanctions from the United States impacting both Iran and North Korea, it was interesting that North Korea’s “No. 2” official began a 10-day visit to Iran on Thursday, which could mean that the two countries are looking to expand their ties with each other.

According to Iran’s IRNA news agency, Kim Yong Nam, chairman of the Supreme Assembly of North Korea, arrived Thursday for the weekend inauguration ceremony for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s second term. However, his visit has been announced as being significantly longer than most of the dignitaries that are attending the event.

The trip is being seen by some international officials as a front to cover over their expanding military cooperation. Pyongyang is also looking for ways to counter sanctions and boost the hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime.


Emily Landau

“There could be a very problematic cooperation going on because of the past history and because it makes strategic sense, especially for Iran now,” said Emily Landau, a senior research fellow at the Israeli-based Institute for National Security Studies and the head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. INSS is an independent think tank affiliated with Tel Aviv University.

The connection between these two countries isn’t about a shared ideology or similar religious ties. Both are trying to maintain power and control over their people, using repression and military might. Both have nuclear ambitions, which would be advanced by closer ties to each other. Plus, Iran will pay cold hard cash, something that North Korea needs, making it a dangerous relationship as North Korea becomes a source of nuclear technology, components, and know-how.

“Both the North Koreans and Iranians feel a serious threat from the United States and the West and sort of see each other as very different countries but facing a somewhat similar situation,” said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear proliferation expert and professor of practice at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The two countries have been very cooperative with each other on missiles, with experts pointing to early generations of Iranian missiles as being adaptations of North Korean technology.

As these two regimes appear to be growing closer, the Iranian regime is dealing with internal issues that are making it harder for the regime to control the domestic unrest. The crackdowns are increasing, but it is clear that Iran is looking for means to shore up its position from a military perspective and sees this relationship as a means of doing so.

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