TOKYO – Next week, world leaders will gather in New York to mark the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear-Non-Proliferation Treaty and to discuss means to further limit the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. This meeting follows on a recent summit in Washington to discuss nuclear security, and the new strategic arms reduction treaty signed by US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in early April. All this diplomatic activity is good news for everyone, everywhere. But neither the US-Russia agreement, nor the global nuclear arms talks, will have much impact on today’s most perilous threat: the nuclear honeymoon between an Iran determined to acquire a nuclear weapons capacity and a North Korea willing to sell Iran much of that capacity for hard currency.
Today, more than 6,000 North Koreans work in Iran and neighboring areas of the Middle East. Many are engaged in construction and the apparel business as low-wage workers. But in Iran and Syria, there are also a growing number of specialist workers. Indeed, when Israel attacked a nuclear facility in Syria in September 2007, it was revealed that North Koreans were involved in developing the site in cooperation with the Syria National Technical Research Center.
Of the many North Koreans living in Iran, most are engaged in activities on behalf of the Korean Workers’ Party. Their mission is to propagandize the party’s ideology in the Islamic Republic. The daily life of these Koreans is constrained within a small community where the Party exercises total control over all personal exchanges.
Some of these workers are directed by North Korea’s embassy in Teheran, which is primarily concerned with acting as a Party watchdog over fellow citizens stationed in Iran. North Korean diplomatic attaches are required to conduct weekly and monthly self-criticism sessions. Those seen as having failed to follow Party dictates in an appropriate way face severe recrimination.