The death of Iran’s top general and the United States’ response to Tehran is “deeply concerning” for North Korea and could have deep-seated economic and political ramifications for the communist regime, a key ally of Iran, experts say.
There are several factors at play that could affect North Korea, Gordon Chang, commentator and author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” told The Epoch Times. He noted that Iran pays $3 billion annually to Pyongyang for various forms of cooperation—about 10 percent of North Korea’s gross domestic product.
“Soleimani’s death means Kim could temporarily lose these important revenue streams,” Chang said via email.
Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was killed early on Jan. 3 in a U.S. airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump, who has said the general was plotting an imminent attack on American citizens. It follows repeated attacks in recent months by Iranian-backed Shiite terror groups against bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq.
“Kim has to be worried that Trump was willing, unpredictably, to disregard the foreign policy establishments in Washington and wield American power,” Chang said. “Trump demonstrated that he will not be paralyzed into inaction.”
It also means that North Korea’s leader will “almost certainly” lose fees he had earned from training Iran’s proxy actors, at least in the short term, according to Chang. The missiles launched by Iran on Jan. 8, which targeted but didn’t harm any U.S. forces in Iraq, meanwhile, are widely believed to be of the Qiam model, which Chang says is “based on a North Korean design.”
“Soleimani was responsible for the proxies, so his death has the potential for disrupting the relationship in the coming months,” Chang said. “The Iranian general was also thought to be the one in charge, or one of those in charge, of Iran’s overall relationship with Pyongyang.”
Iran remains the “world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism,” according to the Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 report published by the U.S. Department of State on Nov. 1, 2019. The regime has funded such international terrorist groups as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
As Iran vowed to avenge Soleimani’s killing, Trump on Jan. 8 warned the Islamic regime that the United States would respond swiftly. With no Americans harmed in the missile strike a day earlier, Trump opted for sanctions and said he was ready for peace.
The actions by the United States, in combating Iran, send a general message to North Korea that “there is a limit to U.S. patience,” Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program, told The Epoch Times.
“I don’t see any possibility that the U.S. would opt to strike the North Korean leadership today, but if the North Koreans caused U.S. casualties as Soleimani did, then the U.S. might retaliate,” Cancian said via email.
Soleimani’s death sends a message to global powers that the rules have changed from previous U.S. administrations, in that the United States “will not tolerate terror masters and their state sponsors killing or harming Americans,” according to Peter Huessy, president of Geostrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm in Potomac, Maryland.
“We do know that terror attacks from North Korea have diminished significantly since Trump shored up U.S. deterrent policy, including adding defense spending to our defense budget, to our Pacific forces,” Huessy said.
In the event that relations between the United States and Iran continue to flare up or escalate, North Korea’s leader “may attempt to obtain U.S. governmental concessions by engaging in semi-aggressive rhetoric and activities at the margins,” Robert J. Bunker, adjunct research professor for the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, told The Epoch Times.
“Such activities would remain below the thresholds of Iranian transgressions and aggressiveness, however,” Bunker added. “The intent is to gain freedom of international action and benefits while the U.S. administration is preoccupied with Iran but not to replace it as the ire of Trump’s attention.”
In Trump’s recent address to the nation about Iran, he didn’t offer details on the additional sanctions he said would be imposed on the regime. According to the president, Iran’s attacks weren’t able to harm any Americans due to “precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well.”
Bunker noted that if organizational elements of the North Korean regime in the future were ever to be designated as foreign terrorist organizations, the leadership of North Korea “would also conceivably be fair game for U.S. targeting purposes.”
“But hurdles to ever targeting such leaders in the future would still exist,” Bunker said.
Tensions between Iran and the United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran deal because it “failed to protect America’s national security interests” and “enabled its malign behavior, while at best delaying its ability to pursue nuclear weapons and allowing it to preserve nuclear research and development,” according to the White House.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report