Increasingly friendly relationship between North Korea and Iran

Kim Yong-nam will attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran, Pyonyang’s official news agency said. Yong-nam is the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and has represented North Korea’s supreme leaders (both the late Kim Jong-Il and now his son, Kim Jong-un) in visits around the world.

The North Korean news agency also reported that an Iranian delegation had visited North Korea in July for “political negotiations and consultations on international developments.” That parley ended with both sides adopting a shared stand against “Western imperialism.”

The high-level relations between North Korea and Iran, both of which are under various international sanctions over their respective nuclear programs, may suggest an increasingly friendly relationship that could pose a grave threat to international security.

Despite the devastating impact on Iran’s economy (for example, its currency has plunged 40 percent since December), the sanctions have not led to any halting of Iran’s uranium enrichment program so far. Similarly, the U.N.’s sanctions on North Korea have also failed to dissuade Pyongyang from relinquishing its nuclear ambitions.

Without firm commitments by North Korea’s trading partners (i.e., China), the effectiveness of Western sanctions will be limited. (China does have incentive in preventing North Korea’s government from collapsing as that would likely trigger a huge influx of refugees across its borders.)

China accounts for 57 percent of North Korea’s total trade and has increased its trade volume with North Korea in 2010, according to Bloomberg. And now Iran also appears to be a major player in North Korea’s economy, to the dismay of U.N. and U.S. officials.

Concerns in the West are that a close relationship between North Korea and Iran would undermine, or at least weaken, sanctions placed upon these nations. And as China continues to build the two economic zones in North Korea, Western sanctions on North Korea could be neutralized.

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