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North Korea demanded Israel pay $1bn to halt nuclear missile sales to Iran

An upgraded version of the short-range surface-to-surface Fateh-110 missile is test fired in 2010 in this photo released by the Iranian Defense Ministry [Vahid Reza Alaei / Iranian Defense Ministry]
Iranian missile [Vahid Reza Alaei / Iranian Defense Ministry]

An exposé by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has revealed that North Korea demanded Israel pay $1 billion in cash in return for halting its nuclear missile sales to Iran.

The alleged offer was made in 1999 during an exchange between North Korea’s envoy to Sweden, Son Mu Sin, and Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Gideon Ben Ami, while the pair met in secret at a café in Stockholm, the Swedish capital. An account of the exchange was recorded in a memoir by the translator present at the meeting, a former North Korean diplomat named Thae Yong Ho. Ho has since defected to South Korea.

It is believed that Israel refused the offer, instead offering to provide North Korea with food aid. North Korea is said to have refused the Israeli offer, leaving the discussions to end without an agreement.

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The WSJ report cited an expert on North Korean arms deals, who said the regime has been selling conventional and ballistic weapons to Iran since the early 1980s, according to the Times of Israel. A second expert cited by WSJ also “noted the similarities between Iran’s Shahab-3 and Khorramshahr missiles and North Korea’s Nodong and Musudan missiles,” which has been interpreted as evidence of cooperation between the two countries.

Both Israel and Iran have refused to comment on the revelations. According to Haaretz, “the Israeli government refused request for comment” and “Iran has denied that it had talks with North Korea on nuclear technology, and its embassy in Seoul also did not respond to a request for comment.” Haaretz added that “last week, Ben Ami [the former Israeli ambassador present at the café meeting] said in a televised interview that he held three meetings with North Korea officials in 1999, but did not disclose any request for payment by North Korea.”

Israel believes that North Korea has long provided nuclear technology to a number of states, including Iran and Syria. In March, Haaretz revealed a 2007 strike on a North Korean-made nuclear reactor in Syria, the details of which were subsequently censored by Israel for over a decade. Known as the Cube, the reactor was reportedly situated near the town of Deir Ez-Zor, in eastern Syria, and believed to house “a nuclear reactor produced in North Korea”.

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Haaretz quotes Amnon Sufrin, then head of the intelligence division at Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency) as saying “the Koreans and the Syrians built a camouflage structure on top of the reactor that made it look like a factory from the outside.” Haaretz’ report has since been questioned by the New Arab, pointing to an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which found the alleged Syrian-North Korean reactor to be different from other reactors in its size, layout and mineral deposits in the surrounding earth.

Israel has for a long time opposed the obtaining of nuclear arms by any country in the Middle East, particularly those regimes that it deems hostile to Israel. This week, Israel gave a series of “red lines” to the US over its plans to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, in a bid to control and limit the Kingdom’s nuclear capacity. Israel’s Energy Minister, Yuval Steinitz, told his US counterpart that Israel wants to prevent uranium enrichment in Saudi Arabia, know all the details of the deal in advance and hold preliminary consultations on the planned location of the nuclear reactors in the Kingdom.

Israel is believed to possess nuclear WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) and be one of four nuclear-armed countries not recognised by the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. The other three are India, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel neither confirms nor denies it possesses such nuclear weapons.

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