North Korea, China and Iran: The Axis of Missiles?

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The long-term arms sales relationship between North Korea and Iran has been ongoing and well known since the early 1980s. But now it appears that this relationship will also involve China.by Bruce E. Bechtol

As some of you reading this piece may remember, in a piece I published with the National Interest back in May of this year, I addressed January 7, 2020, Iranian launching of ballistic missiles at American bases located in Iraq. As I addressed in the article, one set of the missiles launched were in the “Qiam” series, missiles based on the North Korean built (and proliferated to Iran) Scud C system. While this was only the latest example of North Korean assistance that ended up in Iranian combat systems and targeting American or allied forces, it does remind one of the many poorly informed analysts who have repeatedly (and incorrectly) claimed that North Korean proliferation “declined” after its “heyday” in the 1980s and 1990s. This is unambiguously incorrect.  In fact, the threat from Tehran is very real and is exacerbated by the presence of North Korean advisors and technicians in Iran today – a presence that never stopped and shows no signs of ending.

In my previous article, I addressed the North Korean sale to Iran of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) easily convertible to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), based on a Ukrainian engine design that was apparently the basis for the 80-ton rocket booster our own Treasury department sanctioned Iran for in early 2016. The evidence mounts to prove this assessment, but it also leads us to another piece of the puzzle – China. Thus, it is appropriate to conduct a brief review of the history of perhaps the most compelling North Korea – Iran missile deal – a deal that will eventually lead us to China.

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To recap the information in my previous article, according to press reports in 2013, the North Koreans were developing and assisting the Iranians with the development of an 80-ton rocket booster – presumably for a an ICBM. In 2015, further developments were revealed in the press, when it was disclosed that several shipments of the aforementioned rocket from North Korea to Iran had occurred even as JCPOA talks were ongoing. In 2016, following the conclusion of the JCPOA talks, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Iranian companies and individuals for violations of sanctions imposed on North Korea. To put a finer point on it, North Korean and Iranian officials had visited both nations. This was done so that Iran could procure an 80-ton rocket booster for a missile that North Korea was developing at the time. The names and companies (including front companies) involved are in the actual Treasury Department document

In 2017, North Korea tested what they called the “Hwasong-12.” This missile is an IRBM with a range of 4,500 kilometers (or more). It turns out, the Hwasong-12 is

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