Rex Tillerson’s Warnings to North Korea Reached the Middle East

, March 22, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent remarks that two decades of international diplomacy had failed to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its missile testing not only made a splash in the Sea of Japan and in the Far East, they were very carefully noted in the Middle East as well.

For at least two decades now, North Korea has been acting behind the scenes to accelerate the Iranian ballistic missile program and perhaps many other parts of Iran’s military industrial base.

The first major Iranian ballistic missile – the Shahab-3 – was widely viewed when it was first tested in 1998 to be a knockoff of the North Korean Nodong missile. The missile became operational in the Iranian armed forces in 2003 and Iran today fields one of the largest missile forces in the Middle East, largely because of the help it received from North Korean engineers.

Very few people have been aware of the fact that Iran also received a missile known as the BM-25 from North Korea. This was originally a Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile and it came in two models: one was 2,500 kilometers in range and the second one was 3,500 kilometers in range.

This missile, which was reconfigured to be used on land, gave Iran the capability of striking far outside of the Middle East. Indeed, those ranges give Iran the ability to hit as far as the English Channel.

What Secretary Tillerson did in his visit to Seoul, South Korea, was reassure American allies and warn American adversaries, something that has not been done for a very long time. And by doing so, he helped rebuild security in Northeast Asia. This is exactly the kind of steps the administration should take here in the Middle East and specifically in the Persian Gulf.

The failure of past international diplomacy over North Korea became apparent when its Agreed Framework with the U.S. collapsed and North Korea went ahead with atomic tests. On October 14, 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1718 condemning North Korean nuclear tests and calling for a moratorium on missile launches. Both the tests and the missile launches continued.

North Korea has been one of the critical sources for missile technology for the Iranian missile program. The firmer U.S. position on North Korea could thus also contribute to Middle Eastern security and not just the security of Northeast Asia.

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The failure of past international diplomacy over North Korea became apparent when its Agreed Framework with the US collapsed and North Korea went ahead with atomic tests. On October 14, 2006, the US Security Council adopted Resolution 1718 condemning North Korean nuclear tests and calling for a moratorium on missile launches. Both the tests and the missile launches continued. North Korea has been one of the critical sources for missile technology for the Iranian missile program. The firmer US position on North Korea could thus also contribute to Middle Eastern security and not just the security of Northeast Asia.

About Amb. Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.