Iran will likely increase its oil flows to North Korea following the removal of U.S. sanctions on the Middle Eastern country, according to a recently published report from the Congressional Research Service.
The document covers the likely consequences to Iran’s foreign policy in the wake of the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“According to some observers, a portion of China’s purchases of oil from Iran and other suppliers is re-exported to North Korea,” the article reads.
“As Iran’s oil imports increase after international sanctions are removed in conjunction with the JCPOA, it is likely that additional quantities of Iranian oil might reach North Korea, either via China or through direct purchasing by North Korea.”
The Congressional report does not give further details on the re-exports, thought the NK News ship tracker does show frequent North Korean tanker trips to a number of oil terminals in China.
Despite a long running of absence of crude oil in China’s reported trade figures with the DPRK, all signs point to a relative abundance of oil in the country, which has seen a marked increase in the number of cars on its roads.
The new demand, coupled with the DPRK’s lack of domestic oil and gas production and refinery capacity, could make it a likely destination for Iranian crude or oil products. Nor would the shipments be without precedent, during the 1980s Iran paid for North Korean missile cooperation with oil supplies.
“North Korea is one of the few countries with which Iran has formal military-to-military relations, and the two countries have cooperated on a wide range of military and WMD-related ventures, particularly the development of ballistic missile technology,” the Congressional report adds.
Iran also borrowed a page from the DPRK’s playbook during the sanctions era, changing the names and flags of its oil tankers in an attempt to circumvent sanctions.
The Middle Eastern country has some of the world’s largest super tankers, though reflagged many of them to different countries, in an attempt to keep oil flowing out of the country. According to an article from the Financial Times in 2012, over the course of three months Iran changed the flags and names of over half its very large crude oil tankers.
Although the DPRK’s tankers are at the opposite end of the scale and can carry only small amounts of oil products, NK News investigations have found that North Korea uses similar tactics to move oil from Russian terminals to Nampho on the country’s west coast.
Using flags from other countries, North Korean oil tankers can sail very close to South Korea, a route not available to DPRK flagged ships due to the May 24 sanctions, which prevent North Korean vessels from using the South’s ports and waterways.