How the Singapore Summit Could Affect North Korea’s Relationship with Iran

July 10 2018

At their meeting in June, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un reached a tentative agreement for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program, although not only do many details remain to be worked out but it is not even clear that the initial agreement will endure. Dany Shoham considers what impact these negotiations might have on Iran’s longstanding alliance with North Korea, which is based largely on sharing military technology:

Surreptitious Iranian-North Korean cooperation has a long history. Its main component is close technological cooperation in the fields of missiles and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Each country has its own know-how that it contributes to that cooperation. Iran substantially foots the bill. . . .

How will Iranian-North Korean [relations] change [in the wake of a Washington-Pyongyang thaw]? First, [the two rogue regimes are] likely to strengthen their counterintelligence capabilities in order to maintain covert reciprocal activities. North Korean know-how regarding unconventional weapons—know-how that has not yet passed to Iran—will presumably be transferred. Iran might try hard to get Pyongyang to convey to Iran, rather than declare, any elite North Korean personnel and as yet undeclared critical technological components—and possibly actual weaponry—currently in North Korean facilities. Existing joint programs concerning missiles, particularly those designed to carry unconventional warheads, might be relocated in part to Iran. . . .

Iran has much to lose if North Korea entirely meets the requirements likely to be imposed by the U.S. and will endeavor to hamper any such development. The American-North Korean-Iranian triangle . . . has far-reaching strategic ramifications. The dynamics underlying it have two elements: the visible element of the recently established relationship between Pyongyang and Washington and the largely invisible element of Pyongyang’s long relationship with Tehran. The first element will be influenced by China, and perhaps also by Russia—but the second will retain its autonomy, its clandestine nature, and possibly its inaccessibility. This is a matter of serious concern, as Iran stands to be endowed with rescued North Korean assets. . . .

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More about: Chemical weapons, Donald Trump, Iran, North Korea, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin