December 03, 2021

Consent, discord in North Korean, Iranian attitudes toward international terrorism

The enemy of my friend, the enemy of my enemy, or the friend of my enemy?

North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran share the dubious distinction of having been designated state sponsors of terrorism by the U.S. Department of State. Iran was added to Washington’s terrorism list in January 1984 (mainly for its involvement in the attacks that Shia Islamist militants had launched against the U.S. embassy and the U.S. peace-keeping force in Lebanon), and has remained on it ever since. In May 2015, President Obama, despite his strong commitment to a nuclear deal with Tehran, reaffirmed that “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.” Having blown up a South Korean airliner in November 1987, North Korea made to the list in January 1988.

Anxious to achieve the dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities, in October 2008 the U.S. government de-listed the DPRK, but even this concession could not prevent the breakdown of the nuclear talks. In recent years, a number of American politicians, human rights activists and security analysts (including Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, lawyer Joshua Stanton and Professor Bruce E. Bechtol) called for re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, on such grounds as Pyongyang’s involvement in the Sony hack and its continued support for Middle Eastern terrorists. Among other things, they pointed out that North Korea’s assistance to Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist organization in Lebanon designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group, constituted an integral element of the Iranian-DPRK alliance. That is, the two regimes were not just similarly ready to sponsor international terrorism but also actively cooperated with each other (and with Syria, a third state sponsor) in this field.