Thursday, June 14, 2018
In the US-NK Negotiations, North Korea's Weapons Trade with Iran and Syria Will Be Key Issues
THE NEWS TODAY IS ABOUT NORTH KOREA AND THE MIDDLE EAST -- AND A CHECK ON THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. Now that we have a deal between the US and North Korea, it's time to look at the details that the deal will have to resolve. • • • NK NUCLEAR AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS TRADE. Foreign Affairs published on June 6 a detailed discussion of North Korea's illegal weapons Trade. "The Proliferation Threat From Pyongyang," written by Bruce E. Bechtol, Jr. before the Singapore summit, warned that : "Regardless of the fate of the summit, however, the United States and its allies will be forced to deal with North Korea’s weapons programs, which now threaten not only US allies such as South Korea and Japan but potentially the continental United States itself. International attention in recent years has understandably centered on Pyongyang’s advances in nuclear weapons technology and the question of whether North Korea can be convinced to denuclearize. This focus, however, has tended to obscure the fact that North Korea’s military development serves two purposes. The first is the ability to intimidate and threaten both its neighbors in the region and the United States. The second, less well-known purpose is to proliferate weapons -- conventional, unconventional, and weapons of mass destruction -- to desperate and unstable regions around the world in exchange for hard currency. For decades, North Korea has proliferated weapons, including conventional arms, ballistic missiles, and chemical agents, to states such as Iran and Syria (and by extension to their nonstate proxies), helping them to evade international sanctions and providing them with the necessary technical and military assistance to develop their own weapons programs." • • SYRIA. Bechtol notes the "most visible instance" of North Korean proliferation in Syria, "where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, largely financed by his patrons in Teheran, has purchased and deployed North Korean weapons against his own people throughout the course of the country’s seven-year civil war, beginning in the 1960s, "when both countries were part of the Soviet sphere of influence....Korean pilots assisted the Syrian air force against Israel in the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, and during the First Lebanon War in 1982, North Korean special forces trained Syrian troops in guerrilla warfare....Pyongyang has been a major supplier of conventional weapons to Damascus, including artillery, guns, tanks, and systems such as multiple-rocket launchers that have been used to deliver chemical weapons....Since the end of the Cold War, North Korea has also been proliferating ballistic missiles to Syria. During the mid-to-late 1990s, Pyongyang "allegedly sold several hundred Scud-C missiles and missile production kits to Damascus....the North Koreans, in a pattern that continues to this day, contracted to build missile fabrication facilities for the Syrians. Instead of shipping whole missiles to Syria, that is, they would ship the parts -- making it easier to evade sanctions -- which would then be assembled in Syria with assistance from North Korean technicians. North Korea has also used this strategy to assist the Syrians in building and testing an advanced Scud-D." • North Korea, according to Bechtol : "has been deeply involved in Syria’s chemical weapons program as well. In 2004, several Syrian technicians were killed in a train explosion in Ryongchon, North Korea. The Syrians, employees of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (the agency in charge of many of Syria’s covert weapons of mass destruction programs), were accompanying a shipment of missiles and missile components to the North Korean port of Nampo, from which they would be sent to Syria. And since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011, cooperation between Damascus and Pyongyang has increased. According to reports from 2013, North Korea, Syria, and Iran have collaborated in the 'planning, establishment, and management' of at least five Syrian facilities that manufacture precursors of chemical weapons. A UN Panel of Experts report from earlier this year revealed, among other things, that a North Korean technical delegation transferred thermometers and resistance valves for use in chemical weapons during an August 2016 visit to Syria; that North Korean ballistic missile technicians traveled to Syria in April and November 2016; and that North Korean missile and chemical technicians continue to work at facilities in Adra, Barzeh, and Hama." • North Korea has used "sealed diplomatic shipments, which are normally not inspected, and foreign front companies to avoid interdiction." The Panel of Experts report identified 39 shipments from North Korea to Syria between 2012 and 2017, most of them allegedly sending arms, including chemical weapons, grenade launchers, machine guns, and 30-mm autocannons." Bechtol reports that : "In 2008, the year after the Israeli air force destroyed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor, a briefing from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence definitively showed that Pyongyang was assisting Syria in building a copy of the plutonium reactor at Yongbyon, which North Korea has used to produce its own nuclear weapons....According to a high-ranking Iranian defector -- Ali Reza Asghari, a former deputy defense minister -- the construction of the reactor was financed by Iran, to the tune of some $2 billion, according to Israeli estimates. When it comes to Syria, North Korea has literally proliferated everything from rifles to a nuclear program to a troubled nation still divided by civil war." • • IRAN. Bechtol also covers the illicit NK weapons trade with Iran, stating : "North Korea’s best customer, however, is not Syria but Iran. The two states’ relationship began in earnest during the Iran-Iraq War. By the end of the war in 1988, some 300 North Korean military advisors were on the ground in Iran, and Pyongyang had reportedly sold Teheran more than $1 billion in conventional arms, training, and military assistance." Bechtol lists Iran's purchase of North Korean conventional weapons -- the Iranain Ghadir-class submarine appears to be an exact replica of an NK submarine called the Yeono, the same model that sank a South Korean navy corvette in 2010; Iranian funding of weapons purchases from NK by its regional proxies and allies, including Hezbollah, the Syrian government, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Hamas in Gaza. • According to Larry Niksch, a senior associate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies : “North Korea may receive from Iran upwards of $2 to $3 billion annually...for the various forms of collaboration between them.” • But, says Bechtol, the key part of the Iranian–North Korean relationship is Iran’s purchase of ballistic missile systems : "Iran began buying Scud-B missiles from North Korea in the mid-1980s for use against Iraq and started the process of acquiring Scud-C missiles soon thereafter, around 1990. The Scud-C purchases marked an important milestone : rather than selling the completed missiles, North Korea began setting up manufacturing and assembly facilities within Iran itself. These facilities have been the source of confusion among international analysts, since they allow Iran to claim that it is indigenously producing these weapons systems despite the fact that they cannot be made without assistance from, and parts manufactured in, North Korea." Bechtol lists the key elements in the NK-Iran missile trade : "In 1993, North Korea conducted its first known successful test launch of the Nodong -- a test launch attended by Iranian officials. Soon afterward, in the mid-1990s, Iran began purchasing Nodongs using hard currency and possibly oil. In October 2015, the Iranians tested a missile called the Emad, which is essentially a Nodong with a slightly upgraded range -- 1,700 kilometers to the Nodong’s 1,500 -- and an improved guidance system. The Emad was likely built with both assistance and parts from North Korea. During the early 1990s, the North Koreans were also able to obtain a complete Russian SS-N-6 ballistic missile system, allowing them to develop their own variant known as the Musudan -- a more powerful (if more complicated) missile than the Nodong. In 2005, Pyongyang allegedly sold 18 Musudan missiles to Iran. And in January 2006, Teheran reportedly conducted a successful test launch of the Musudan. Analysis of the launch led to an assessed range of 4,000 kilometers. In 2013, it was revealed that Iran and North Korea were collaborating on a new, 80-ton long-range rocket booster for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and in 2015 reports emerged that Pyongyang had supplied Teheran with several shipments of missile components even as nuclear talks proceeded between Iran and the United States, with at least two shipments during the fall of 2015. In 2016, following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Iranian officials acting on behalf of the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group and Iran’s Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics, who had violated US and UN sanctions by dealing with the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, one of North Korea’s key front companies for weapons proliferation." • Proof of NK's relationship to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, says Bechtol, "although widely suspected," has been limited to anecdotal reports in the press. A 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times by the veteran reporter Douglas Frantz reported Iranian contacts with China, Pakistan, Russia, and North Korea in pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities....Frantz also reported that 'so many North Koreans are working on nuclear and missile projects in Iran that a resort on the Caspian coast is set aside for their exclusive use.' According to a January 2006 report by Robin Hughes in Jane’s Defense Weekly, North Korea constructed more than 10,000 meters of underground nuclear facilities for Iran. In 2011, reports in the European press suggested that North Korea had supplied Iran with a computer program simulating neutron flows and training for how to use it. And in November of that year, the Washington Post, citing intelligence provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that 'Iran also relied on foreign experts to supply mathematical formulas and codes for theoretical design work [for its nuclear program] -- some of which appear to have originated in North Korea.' ” • • THE US-NK NEGOTAITONS. These North Korean relationships with Iran and Syria for conventional, chemical, and nuclear weapons will be a major point of discussion in the US-NK denuclearization negotiations. Bechtol suggests that in addition, US and allied policymakers should use "the Proliferation Security Initiative, an international effort to halt the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction initiated by US President George W. Bush in 2003...with increased allied support in the form of resources and personnel...[to make] a dent in North Korea’s illicit shipments." Bechtol also says it would help to "more effectively enforce existing US and UN sanctions...to ensure that nations, banks, and front companies violating the sanctions face the full force of US and international law." But, says Bechtol : "On the bright side, enforcement was stepped up last fall as a result of Trump’s pressure campaign and is likely to constrain North Korea. The second is to use Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act, which empowers the US Treasury Department to target terrorist financing, to go after banks, front companies, and individuals involved in North Korea’s complicated illicit financial network. If actors working on behalf of Pyongyang can be pinpointed and excluded from access to US and allied banks and financial institutions, this will severely limit North Korea’s ability to sell and ship its weapons abroad....On September 21, 2017, Trump issued an executive order authorizing the Treasury Department to completely cut off North Korean access to the US dollar and to sanction any person or entity attempting to do business with Pyongyang. The United States can -- and likely will -- go after banks and front companies in China, but it will also pursue them in places such as Singapore, Malaysia, and several countries in Africa." • This is not a sanctions-for-sanctions-sake action, according to Bechtol : "North Korea has for many years been able to use the money it earns from military proliferation to pay for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, oversize military, and subsidies for the elite that keeps Kim in power....Unless the United States is allowed to inspect all nuclear sites at the time of its choosing, and until it becomes clear that North Korea has completely dismantled its nuclear program, Washington must keep up the pressure on Pyongyang’s illegal economic activities -- proliferation key among them. Continued pursuit of North Korea’s weapons trade and the financial networks that support it is not only the right thing to do but essential for giving Washington the leverage to pressure Pyongyang." • • • NK AND THE MIDDLE EAST POST-JCPOA. The Washington Institute published a three-part policy forum on Tuesday about how North Korea, Iran, and Syria are intertwined in their nuclear programs, raising questions about how -- and if -- Kim Jong-un will extricate North Korea from these nuclear relationships. • ANTHONY RUGGIERO, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a veteran of Treasury and State Department programs tasked with countering North Korea, discusses the possible extent of North Korea's nuclear ventures in the Middle East. Ruggiero's point is that NK could give Iran the plans and know-how needed to build its own ICBMs and to complete the Iranian unranium enrichment program, assuming NK has such technology, something Ruggiero says is not known, at least publicly. But, thanks to the relaxation of sanctions and cash payments in the Obama nuclear deal, Iran has the wherewithal to buy whatever such technology NK has. Of course, the question now is whether NK will continue its ICBM development clandestinely and manage to escape the surveillance of the United States now that Kim has signed on to verifiable and complete denuclearization. Ruggiero notes that Syria's Bashar al-Assad is set to visit Kim Jong-un soon, and : "Although Israel destroyed Syria's North Korean-built nuclear reactor in 2007, neither Damascus nor Pyongyang suffered any lasting consequences for their proliferation activity, so it has continued....with multiple groups of North Korean technicians traveling to Syria and transferring special missile technology, including help with developing Scuds. Kim has also provided Syria with technology and materials used for the development of chemical weapons, such as acid-resistant tiles and associated valves, pipes, and cables." Elsewhere, says Ruggiero : "Pyongyang has formed export relationships with Persian Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and other US partners that Washington may be hesitant to sanction. North Korean solid propellant for short- and medium-range missiles would be especially attractive to regional states and nonstate actors." Ruggiero says it will be important for North Korea to tell the US in the coming negotiations about all of its proliferation efforts : "Pyongyang likely does not realize just how much the United States knows about its activities. Armed with copious intelligence data, American officials will usually be able to tell when their counterparts across the table are being honest, and to what extent they are serious about an agreement. North Korea has pledged to stop proliferating military technology in the past but continues to do it, so the administration's demands will have to be more specific in order to obtain meaningful changes." For Ruggiero, one problem in the negotiations will be that NK may believe -- based on the lax enforcement of the Iran nuclear deal -- that "cheating on nuclear deals is permissible, that limited deals can be exploited, that it can push the envelope on nuclear issues to extract concessions, and that its military sites are off limits." But, says Ruggiero, Washington has hopefully learned some lessons -- such as being prepared to leave the table if necessary, realizing that nuclear deals are focused and cannot address other strategic issues, and that phased denuclearization should be avoided : "Washington should not give North Korea any relief until it makes real progress toward denuclearization. Yet if Kim is truly willing to commit to such progress, the administration should be prepared to negotiate 'big for big.' " Ruggiero calls China and Russia "the world's top sanctions evaders," noting that they will not be present as partners in the NK-US negotiations, but could be the recipients of sanctions if they attempt to interfere by aiding NK to avoid sanctions before they are relaxed. • KONGDAN OH is a resident staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses and coauthor of North Korea Through the Looking Glass. Kongdan Oh sees the NK illicit trade problem as mostly cash-driven : "North Korea's nuclear and missile relationship with Syria began during the reign of Kim Il-sung....As for relations with Iran, Pyongyang built them on a foundation of blackmail and anti-American geopolitics. " Oh describes a 1997 meeting in Stockholm of a North Korean delegation and the Israeli ambassador, in which NK explained that it had "successfully tested a satellite missile, and warned that Iran and other Middle Eastern states were interested in buying it. They asked Israel for one billion dollars in exchange for withholding the missile technology from its enemies." The Israelis refused to pay cash but offered humanitarian aid, agricultural technology, medicine, and other assistance that NK turned down. But, Oh reminds us that today : "North Korea is changing internally. Its citizens have around 3.7 million cell phones and can directly contact people in parts of South Korea, China, and Russia. Such contacts will inevitably raise questions at home about the regime's ideology and legitimacy. Kim knows that he has to focus on economic development if his regime is to survive, but the Democratic People's Republic remains a very cash-poor society with miniscule foreign reserves." This means, according to Oh, that : "Pyongyang will likely keep any nuclear promises it makes if the price is right....given their dire economic situation, they may decide to put aside their distrust and uphold agreements for economic benefits." In addition, Oh talks about the NK-China relationship, saying it is "at an historic low....Xi has met with Kim at least twice in recent months, but Chinese government mouthpieces have been very sarcastic and skeptical about the prospect of talks with Washington." • JAY SOLOMON is former chief foreign affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Solomon says that North Korean proliferation exists, it is imbedded all over the Middle East, and other countries make it possible. Solomon notes : "In Syria, North Korea uses foreign shell companies to procure equipment for Damascus indirectly. These fronts have been found in Malaysia, Egypt, and across China, among other locations. The notion that Beijing is blind to such activities strains credulity. In essence, then, the international community's ability to curb North Korean nuclear proliferation depends on political will in these front countries." Today, according ot Solomon : "Almost every state in the Middle East has some link to North Korean military systems." Solomon blames the Clinton and Bush administrations for failing "to insist on a full accounting of Pyongyang's proliferation activities. For example, the lack of such transparency led to the collapse of a 1994 framework agreement in which North Korea agreed to stop proliferating. Even today, the public is still learning the extent of North Korea's technical assistance to Syria's chemical and nuclear weapons program." Solomon also points out that the Trump negotiators should learn the lessons of the Obama nuclear deal : "That deal failed to resolve a host of important issues, and looming political transition in Washington greatly increased its risk of eventual collapse. Despite moving forward with the deal, the parties -- not to mention rival camps inside the US government -- never completely agreed on sanctions issues, and the Obama administration dropped the matter of 'possible military dimensions.' In short, international agreements of this sort are inherently political, so they should be put into treaties if they are going to stand the test of time." • • • A PRIOR INVITATION TO AL-ASSAD TO VISIT NK. Kim Jong-un's invitation to al-Assad visit to North Korea, apparently made in mid-May, was reported on June 3 by the BBC, quoting al-Assad as saying : "I am going to visit [North Korea] and meet Kim Jong-un." The BBC said "it would be the first time North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hosted a head of state since assuming power in 2011." Syria is an ally of North Korea, and the BBC noted that : "The two countries have been accused of co-operating on chemical weapons. But both nations deny the accusations." However, a UN report leaked in February accused North Korea of making 40 shipments to Syria between 2012 and 2017 of materials including acid-resistant tiles, valves and pipes that could be used to make chemical weapons. Al-Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons during the nation's seven-year civil war but denies having any such stockpiles. The reported invitation to visit NK came as al-Assad received the credentials of North Korean ambassador Mun Jong-nam. Al-Assad was also quoted by the BBC as saying that he was sure Kim would "achieve the final victory and realise the reunification of Korea without fail." Will Kim withdraw his invitation to al-Assad now that he has a deal with the US? • • • WHAT NEXT? The New York Times published an article by Peter Baker and Choe Sang-Hun on Wednesday that was highly negative about President Trump's Singapore summit. Suffice it to say that it was the Deep State ragsheet at its Trump-bashing worst. • But, the NYT article quoted Kelsey Davenport, the nonproliferation policy director at the Washington-based Arms Control Association : “The critical question is what comes next? The true test of success is whether the follow-on negotiations can close the gap between the United States and North Korea on the definition of denuclearization and lay out specific, verifiable steps that Pyongyang will take to reduce the threat posed by its nuclear weapons.” • The NYT also referred to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who traveled to Seoul to brief South Korean officials. Pompeo said : "the next step in negotiations had not been decided," but added that he expected to "begin the engagement with North Korea within the next week." • The NYT reported that : "Speaking with reporters, Pompeo said that the Trump administration hoped to complete the 'major disarmament' of North Korea within the next 2½ years without defining what that would entail. Some nuclear experts have said completely unwinding North Korea’s nuclear program could take 10 to 15 years, although some foreign policy analysts said the two sides could accomplish enough by the end of Mr. Trump’s term in office to demonstrate a serious effort....'Most certainly in the President’s first term,' Mr. Pompeo said in describing the administration’s goal. 'You used the term ‘major disarmament,’ something like that? Yes, we’re hopeful that we can achieve that in the next, what is it, two and a half years, something like that.' Mr. Pompeo insisted that the general wording of the statement committed North Korea to an international inspection regime to confirm its 'complete denuclearization.' The statement itself, however, did not use the words 'verifiable' or 'irreversible' that had been part of the mantra of American officials leading up to Singapore. 'Let me assure you that the ‘complete’ encompasses ‘verifiable’ in the minds of everyone concerned,' Mr. Pompeo said. 'One can’t completely denuclearize without validating, authenticating -- you pick the word.' ” • • • THE SWAMP HITS THE NK DEAL BECAUSE IT BEARS THE NAME TRUMP. The #NeverTrumpers are already trampling on Trump and the Singapore document, raising the issues of what limits North Korea would accept on missiles, what North Korea would do to address Japan’s concerns about its abducted citizens and what assurances would Pyongyang make in terms of not helping other states build nuclear facilities as it did with Syria -- and Trump's decision to halt the war games with South Korea. • Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation and a former CIA analyst, said the joint statement signed in Singapore did not even commit North Korea to do as much as it promised in deals negotiated in 1994 and 2005 that it later failed to live up to. "It’s weaker than its predecessors,” he said. “It’s a first step, but it’s a stumble more than a step. It’s not worth the hype that’s being accrued to it.” • But, Trump allies support the deal. President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said the Singapore meeting was a success despite unanswered questions. Moon and others saw it as the clearest signal yet that the two countries were walking away from the brink of war and willing to take bold steps to end decades of acrimony. On Wednesday, according to the NYT : "Mr. Moon appeared to accept Mr. Trump’s decision to suspend joint military exercises. 'While North Korea and the United States are engaged in sincere talks on denuclearization and relations-building, we recognize the need to find various options to smooth such dialogue,' said a spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom." • CNBC reported that Pompeo says North Korea sanctions will remain in place until complete denuclearization. Pompeo apparently contradicted NK's view that the process agreed at this week's summit would be phased and reciprocal. The NYT quoted NK’s official Korean Central News Agency that said Trump agreed to “lift sanctions” once relations improve. The NYT noted that Trump has said sanctions would remain until North Korea dismantled enough of its nuclear program to make it difficult to reverse course. The North Korean agency said the two leaders agreed to a phased process in which Pyongyang would bargain away its arsenal in stages, securing reciprocal actions from the US at each step : “Kim Jong-un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The NYT said : "Mr. Pompeo declined to discuss the North Korean report. 'I’m going to leave the content of our discussions as between the two parties, but one should heavily discount some things that are written in other places,' he said. Vice President Mike Pence also seemed to contradict the North Korean version. 'As the President said, our sanctions will remain in place until North Korea’s nuclear weapons are no longer a factor,' he said at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. 'We will not repeat the mistakes of the past.' " Pompeo was direct with reporters after he briefed South Korea and Japan : "President Trump has been incredibly clear about the sequencing of denuclearization and relief from the sanctions : "We are going to get complete denuclearization; only then will there be relief from the sanctions." • The South China Morning Post on Thursday gave a fuller report of the Pompeo statements in Seoul : "Pompeo -- sharing a podium in Seoul on Thursday with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts -- was asked about North Korean claims that US President Donald Trump had committed to a 'step-by-step' process and 'expressed his intention' to lift sanctions. Those assertions appear to contradict Trump’s pledge to keep penalties in place until Kim’s nuclear weapons 'are no longer a factor. Chairman Kim Jong-un understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearisation, and understands we must do this quickly,' Pompeo said. 'And the sanctions relief cannot take place until such time as we have showed that North Korea has been completely denuclearised.' Pompeo was briefing North Asian leaders on Trump’s summit with Kim in Singapore on Tuesday...before heading to Beijing later to talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both Moon and Xi have advocated a phased approach to negotiations and moved to quickly repair ties with Pyongyang, while Japan wants the US-led 'maximum pressure' campaign to continue....After arriving in Seoul on Wednesday, Pompeo said he expected that North Korea would take major steps towards nuclear disarmament during Trump’s first term. US defence analysts have said Kim retains as many as 60 nuclear bombs and a range of missiles, including some he says can strike the US. 'We’re hopeful that we can achieve that in, what was it, the next two and half years,' Pompeo said. 'We’re hopeful we can get it done. There’s a lot of work left to do.' " • While President Trump has also drawn criticism for announcing he was ending joint “war games” with South Korea, embracing the frequent North Korean criticism that the exercises are “very provocative,” Pompeo said on Wednesday that Trump “made it very clear that the condition precedent for the exercises not to proceed was productive, good-faith negotiations being ongoing. And at the point that it’s concluded they are not, the President’s commitment to not have those joint exercises take place will no longer be in effect.” • Another voice in support of Trump came from oilprice.com, which wrote on June 9 : "Formally, Iran did not demonstrably cheat on the 2015 agreement. But it has developed a massive ballistic program and presents a regional threat. North Korea is accustomed to cheating yet presents less regional danger, except in preemptive and suicidal self-defense. Still, North Korea tested the submarine-launched ballistic missile and supplied pocket submarines to Iran that could be used against the Ormuz Straits. The design of Iranian and North Korean conventional submarines share commonalities; Iran has the cash to develop nuclear propulsion. Successful arms-control agreements have started with limitations on missiles, going on to nuclear warheads. For example, to this day, many withdrawn US and Russian warheads remain in storage. Cheating is expected in halfway agreements, whether formal like Pyongyang’s open defiance or in spirit like Iran’s pursuit of ballistic missiles without warheads. Among non-democracies, only Libya abandoned its program without regime change. North Korea’s recent outburst against what it regards as excessive requests emphasizes that Libya was not yet a nuclear power and not rewarded. By happenstance or design, Trump’s initiatives build on the differences between Iran and North Korea. For Iran, the missile issue is paramount. The allied US-France-UK strikes on Syria and devastating Israeli hits on underground structures deliver the message that Iran’s missile sites could also be hit. Nuclear weapons without missiles are relics, the line apparently taken by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whereas National Security advisor John Bolton demands immediate, complete denuclearization." • The South China Morning Post on June 8 had said the same : "The relationship between Iranian and North Korean proliferation is deep and long-standing, with mutual help at critical junctures and a converging connection to Syria. Separating the proliferators makes sense. This was true in 2017, when Iran announced the resumption of its long-range missile program at the height of the international stand-off with North Korea over its missile launches and nuclear tests. During this period, according to a UN report, two North Korean ships delivered crates to Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre, the chemical-weapons-research center destroyed by a joint US-France-UK strike in April....Back in 2002, Syria signed a scientific agreement with North Korea undertaking a covert nuclear reactor project -- destroyed by Israel in 2007. Iran signed a deal with North Korea in 2012; cooperation was apparent before and after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015. Yet, while Iran recovered some financial resources with the 2015 agreement, North Korea endured increasingly biting sanctions. Iran is only a threshold nuclear power while North Korea, after decades of efforts, is a nuclear weapons state. Still, Iran, as exposed by Israeli spying and previous IAEA inspections, was close to the design and supplies for a nuclear weapon. Given North Korea’s proliferation record towards Pakistan and the Middle East, little prevents it from sharing designs for nuclear warheads or selling missile parts. Iran and North Korea expose gaping holes in non-proliferation policies....Nuclear weapons without missiles are relics, which is the line apparently taken by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whereas National Security advisor John Bolton demands immediate, complete denuclearisation. Ending North Korea’s nuclear program, as suggested by Pompeo, but not mentioning existing stock, goes along with promises to refrain from seeking regime change and making North Korea as rich as South Korea....The administration cannot negotiate arms-control deals and push regime change simultaneously: Trump professes to abandon the latter, and the North Koreans are correct about the need for security guarantees." • • • CHINA, THERE IS ALWAYS CHINA. The UK Daily Mail reported on Monday, the day before the Singapore summit, that China had removed surface-to-air missiles from Woody Island in Paracel Islands [China's largest base in the Paracel Islands that are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan], but the missiles have now reappeared on the dispute territory in South China Sea. The Daily Mail says : "Tensions have been rising between China and the United States in the region. Beijing claims a large part of the South China Sea and has been building bases there. New images taken by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International (ISI) on Friday revealed the missiles are back where they were before. ISI said when the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems were initially removed it was possible they had simply been redeployed to another island, or moved as part of a drill. Experts were doubtful the launchers had been permanently removed, suggesting they may have been sent for maintenance. 'Due to the corrosive effects of salt and humidity in the islands, must be removed and sent back to the mainland for maintenance periodically,' said Timothy Heath, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation told CNN....At the end of last month the Pentagon withdrew its invitation for China to participate in a multinational naval exercise the US is hosting this summer, which it said was a response to the expansion of the Chinese military capability in the area. Last week the US sent two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to fly over the disputed Spratly Islands, south of Woody Island....The Chinese air force recently landed a strategic bomber on Woody Island. It is also reported to be considering sending warships to the Taiwan Strait and stepping up naval patrols in the South China Sea. Washington warned that Beijing would face unspecified 'consequences' over its militarisation of the South China Sea." • • • DEAR READERS, China is not, as some analysts suggest, the big winner in the Singapore US-NK denuclearization deal. But, I think it is safe to assume that China fleshed out NK's agenda when Kim visited Xi, and Kim ran with it. Now, Pompeo must get the result that actually denuclearizes North Korea. And, for Trump to parlay his risk, he must coax Kim to move fully over to the US side in the Asian equation. President Trump hinted at that when he said at the Singapore press conference that the Chinese economy is half the size of the US economy. There is a gutsy message there from Trump to Xi -- play ball or I will dump your economy. Everybody talks about how much harm a trade war with China could do to the US, but the reality is just the opposite -- China would be flattened without the US market. Those who don't see that are not looking at the facts. And, we know that Trump lives by facts. They roll out of him. We also know that President Trump is not one to put himself at the mercy of any nation, especially not China. So, I think we ought to be watching not only Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un. We should also be watching the South China Sea and the US military. What Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis does there will be very important for the US-NK deal. And, how Trump uses what Mattis does in the South China Sea will tell Kim where his brightest future lies.