- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2018

Iran’s hardline leadership is watching the historic Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for signs that Pyongyang could start sharing critical intelligence with Washington about its dealings with Tehran, argues a prominent Iran analyst.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim’s meeting, which revolves around the U.S’s demand that North Korea verifiably and irreversible denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, comes just a month after Mr. Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that restricted the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

On Monday, Iranian officials dismissed the prospects for successful talks and warned Pyongyang to be highly suspect of Washington’s promises.

“As regards U.S. behavior, approach and its intentions,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters in Tehran, “we are highly skeptical and look at its actions with utter pessimism.”

Beyond the usual sharp rhetoric, however, Iranian leadership will eagerly watch what kind of a deal Washington and North Korea could strike — in addition to scanning for signs that Pyongyang is “ready to share intelligence with Washington about its dealings with Tehran” according to Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East.

Mr. Alfoneh, whose research includes Iranian civil-military relations with a special focus the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, recently argued in an op-ed published in The Arab Weekly that Washington made a statement by offering North Korea, “a de facto nuclear power — prestige through a tete-a-tete at the highest political level” while brushing aside Tehran, “a nuclear threshold state” by withdrawing from the Iran deal.

“In other words, Washington treats nuclear powers with respect and aspiring nuclear powers with contempt,” he wrote.

This, he added, raises two major questions 1) is Iranian leadership even capable of getting a nuclear bomb to achieve a position like North Korea‘s? and 2) If Pyongyang reaches an understanding with Washington, will it compromise Tehran?

Mr. Alfoneh notes that Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have insisted that Tehran disclose its nuclear activities. North Korea, Mr. Alfoneh writes, can provide significant information about those activities, especially via connections the late Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani maintained with Pyongyang.

In his memoirs, Mr. Rafsanjani openly discussed Iran’s arms and missile procurement from North Korea during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). Later entries about North Korea in the 1990s, however, are “more opaque” although Mr. Rafsanjani does mention summoning Majid Abbaspour, Iran’s then-presidential advisor on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear industries — to procure a “special commodity” and unspecified “technical know-how” from the North Koreans in return for oil shipments to Pyongyang.

The late Iranian president apparently expressed anxiety that the “special commodity” could be intercepted by the U.S. but later gloated about its successful arrival after the U.S. Navy allegedly tracked the wrong ship from North Korea.

“Should the North Koreans, perhaps in return for favors from Washington, disclose the nature of Tehran’s procurements in the 1990s, the Trump administration will use that intelligence as proof of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and intentions,” Mr. Alfoneh writes.

“Of course,” he adds, “this depends on the outcome of the summit in Singapore.”


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