New York Post, By Benny Avni
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Iran or North Korea? Which threat should America confront first?
Here’s a thought: both.
Save for the weather, North Korea would’ve tested an intercontinental ballistic missile last Thursday, at almost the same time as Iran did. It missed the date, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1953 armistice pact that ended the Korean War, likely thanks to a rain storm.
Nerveless, it tested the next day, creating a Mideast-East Asian stereo boom heard around the world.
American experts no longer think it’ll take North Korea years to be able to hit the continental United States. Most watchers now expect it sometime next year.
So President Trump has drawn the short straw. Three predecessors failed to stop the Kim regime’s nuclear and missile advances. If he wants to stop the Norks, Trump has no choice but to act — and all of his options are bad.
Meanwhile, much of President Barack Obama’s Iran deal is expected to unravel during Trump’s tenure as well.
What can he do?
Americans and others have long observed cooperation between these two rogue regimes. You don’t need to be a trained missile expert to notice the design similarities between North Korea’s home-built Rodong and its Iranian clone, the Shahab 3. Or the Rodong B and Shahab 4.
Iranian nuclear scientists were present at Pyongyang’s first nuclear test. Iran-allied Syria modeled its nuclear plant (later eliminated by Israel) on a similar North Korean one. Rather than violating the Obama deal by experimenting at home, Iran can advance its nuclear program by observing North Korea’s and contributing to its progress.
The mullahs have what Kim Jong-un needs most: cash. Pyongyang’s only foreign-currency-worthy export is weapons and knowing how to build and use them, which Iran craves. It’s a match made in hell.
So why are countries threatened by North Korea, like Japan, so eager to do business with Iran? After all, don’t the mullahs enable the North’s quest to develop the missiles that get fired near Japan?
“There’s no proof” of such cooperation, Tokyo officials said when I asked them about it on a recent trip to Japan.
They’re right. For decades, America shied away from revealing what the intelligence community knew about the Tehran-Pyongyang love affair because we dreamed of diplomatic breakthroughs on both fronts (and feared revealing spy methods).
After the Sunday ICBM test, such timidity is no longer an option.
America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted Sunday that “China is aware they must act” and that Japan and South Korea must increase pressure. It’s “not only a US problem” but one that requires an international solution.
Yet, an international solution has eluded Haley since July 4, the last time North Korea launched a missile designed to reach the continental US. Russian diplomats have ridiculously argued there’s no proof this was an ICBM, therefore no need to increase sanctions.
Such obfuscation will likely continue. Russia and China will block attempts to corner Kim and his henchmen — especially now that administration officials like CIA Director Mike Pompeo are starting to push the idea of toppling the Kim regime, which both Beijing and Moscow oppose.
So one action the United States can take would be to put forth a UN resolution naming and sanctioning persons and entities involved in the Iran-North Korea arms cooperation.
Western diplomats tell me it likely won’t pass. Yet they’re intrigued by publicly airing, Adlai Stevenson-like, America’s intel on Iran-Nork cooperation.
Iran’s missile program was, bizarrely, left out of Obama’s nuclear deal. Revealing the Tehran-Pyongyang nexus might convince allies wobbly about Tehran’s violations that the mullahs’ threat is global. It could also start the process of plugging a major cash source for the Kim regime.
And then, there’s action beyond the United Nations: Obama rarely used the Proliferation Security Initiative, a treaty signed by 105 countries that allows search and seizure of ships carrying illicit arms. Expose the Iran-North Korea connection, then use PSI to disrupt it, with our allies’ help.
We’ve long thought of Iran and North Korea as separate problems. Time for a holistic approach that will give a jolt to the diplomatic stalemate.
US flights over South Korean skies are helping. Talking publicly about adding Japan and South Korea to the global nuclear club may scare China into action. So will blacklisting companies that do business with Kim Jong-un. Regime change should be the ultimate target.
But a change in diplomatic strategy is needed too, and fast. Time to expose what everyone knows, but no one ever says out loud: Kim and the mullahs are BFFs.