The world watched in horror last month as North Korea, under leader Kim Jong Un, launched a probable intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15. Analysis showed that the ICBM could be capable of reaching Washington, D.C., and possibly any location across the globe. No country is safe from its range.
As President Donald Trump made his recent 12-day, five-nation tour of Asia, the gravity of the North Korea issue dominated conversation. And while there was understandable consternation focused on that rogue state, the role of another bad actor, Iran, has been thoroughly underreported. Two years ago, as part of the ill-fated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the U.S. sent billions of dollars to Iran, despite Iran’s clear and present nuclear ambition and close cooperation with the North Korean military.
As we approach Dec. 12, the 60-day window for Congress to decide whether or not to impose sanctions — previously triggered by President Trump’s decertification of the Iran deal — is rapidly closing. Two principles must be kept in the forefront. Because of their close ties, if North Korea can launch ICBMs, then surely so can Iran. And, if one is allowed to act with impunity, then the other will follow suit.
When President Trump decided not to recertify the Iran deal, he made specific mention of the reported relationship between the two rogue nation-states. He instructed “our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed.” However, ample evidence already exists of the Iran alliance with North Korea.
A recent report found that the two nation-states have been conducting “high-level meetings,” discussing the “depth” of their military ties and exploring further “military cooperation.” This August, Kim reiterated his support for Iran, stating, “Iran and North Korea share a mutual enemy (the United States). We firmly support Iran on its stance that missile development does not need to be authorized by any nation.” Additionally, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress in May, “North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor, destroyed in 2007, illustrate its willingness to proliferate dangerous technologies.”
In recent days, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has threatened European countries, saying, “So far, we have felt that Europe is not a threat, so we did not increase the range of our missiles. But if Europe wants to turn into a threat, we will increase the range of our missiles.” It should come as no surprise that only several months prior, the regime began test-launching BM-25 ballistic missiles — in defiance of the Iran deal — capable of reaching just under 2,500 miles. Weapons experts believe it had acquired the technology from North Korea.
Given the two rogue states are kindred, anti-American spirits, it’s also no surprise that Iran has followed the same aggressive path as North Korea. Iranian President Hassan Rouhanirecently threatened that Tehran could restart its nuclear program within a matter of “hours.” Similarly, in response to the announcement of a tougher U.S. policy toward Iran, the IRGC stated defiantly that it would “expand” and “continue with more speed” its ballistic missile program.
To show both North Korea and Iran that their actions are untenable, the Trump administration must follow through on its promise to impose further sanctions on those found to have helped Iran and North Korea share military technology. The administration should also consider a policy to intercept and destroy ICBMs headed toward the U.S. or our allies in the Western Hemisphere.
Further, with the Iran deal in limbo, multiple shortcomings must also be addressed. The U.S. needs to make clear that extraterritorial actions by Iran to share its military and nuclear technology is forbidden and subject to the agreement’s sanctions “snap-back” mechanism. In relation, the deal’s restrictions on Iran need to apply to more than just its domestic nuclear program.
With the clear understanding that Iran has played a central role in helping North Korea advance its missile technology, it’s time for America to show that our rhetoric in response to rogue states is matched with concrete action.