- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 25, 2020

Iran is seizing the current moment of increased U.S.-North Korea tension to urge Pyongyang to stand up against the United States and align more closely with Tehran against the “common enemy” of Washington.

In remarks made a day before the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Washington of bullying the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un.

Despite President Trump’s praise for the North Korean leader and repeated diplomatic attempts to open denuclearization talks with Pyongyang over the past three years, Mr. Rouhani said Washington has “always oppressed and imposed sanctions against governments and nations such as Iran and [North Korea].”

“We must stand stronger than ever against their excessive demands and coercion,” Mr. Rouhani said in remarks Wednesday at a ceremony in Tehran as he received the credentials of a new North Korean ambassador to Iran, according to the Iranian government-run Fars News Agency.

While the Trump administration has sought to reach out to Pyongyang, it has also maintained aggressive sanctions pressure on the Kim regime in the absence of progress in denuclearization talks.

Tensions have risen amid a wave of North Korea missile tests and other provocations over the past year, and talks have been stalled since the February 2019 Hanoi Summit between President Trump and Mr. Kim broke down without a major agreement.

A Fars News Agency report on Thursday, meanwhile, said Mr. Rouhani referred to friendly relations that have flourished between Iran and North countries since the late-1970s Iranian revolution, and expressed the hope that bilateral relations between the two will only improve going forward.

Speculation has long been rampant among national security analysts over the extent to which Iran and North Korea may have clandestinely worked together over the years to advance each other’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs in violation of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

A series of high-level meetings between Iranian and North Korean officials in late-2017 caused a spike in concern in Washington about the true depth of military and ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two American adversaries.

An analysis published at the time by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — a think tank often critical if Iran — claimed that U.S. intelligence had spotted Iranian defense officials in North Korea, raising the specter that Pyongyang and Tehran might be sharing certain military technological advances with each other.

The analysis stopped short of asserting that Iranian and North Korean officials were collaborating directly on nuclear weapons development, noting that the official position of the U.S. government and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has been that there is no conclusive evidence of such collaboration.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, another Washington-based think tank critical of Iran’s government, said in a report last year that links between Iran and North Korea were deeper than commonly recognized and called on the U.S. government to do more to block companies that could be aiding the collaboration.

While the January 2016 report also said there was no proof of explicit nuclear cooperation between the two, it asserted that a host of unanswered questions remained over the extent to which Iran may be “outsourcing aspects of its nuclear weapons program” to North Korea.

“Signs of military and scientific cooperation between Iran and North Korea suggest that Pyongyang could have been involved in Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic-missile program, and that state-run trading companies may have assisted in critical aspects of Iran’s illicit nuclear-related activities,” the foundation’s report said.

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