Relist North Korea As a Terrorist Sponsor

A new Congressional report indicates the Bush administration removed North Korea from the state sponsor of terrorism list in spite of contradictory evidence. Because the North Koreans are still sponsoring terrorism and have close ties to the most radical part of Iran’s terror state — the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — President Obama should immediately relist the communist rogue as a terrorist sponsor and impose all the associated sanctions.

A 2009 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, “North Korea: Terrorism List Removal,” indicates the Bush administration ignored considerable credible evidence that Pyongyang supports terrorists in order to conclude a now-failed denuclearization agreement. The communist regime’s recent atomic and long-range missile tests and confirmation it has a long-denied uranium-enrichment program demonstrate Pyongyang’s unreliability.

The CRS report indicates the Bush administration ignored contradictory evidence when drafting State Department reports leading up to the 2008 denuclearization deal with North Korea in order to justify removing the regime from the terrorist list. Reportedly, North Korea made delisting it as a terror sponsor a precondition to the agreement.

North Korea’s delisting objective was the lifting of trade and economic sanctions. Countries on the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism list face four types of sanctions: bans on arms-related exports and sales, bans on exports of dual-use items that could significantly enhance the country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism, bans on economic assistance, and financial restrictions such as requiring the U.S. to oppose World Bank loans. The current list includes Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

President Bush’s decision to remove North Korea from the terrorist list defied the facts. The new CRS report cites government and public sources to demonstrate that North Korea has a long and current relationship with terrorist groups and rogues like terrorist supporting Iran and Syria.

Until 2008, the Bush administration kept North Korea on the terrorist sponsor list. The communist regime earned its place on the “official” list of countries supporting terrorism because of its role in the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987, which killed 115 persons. It remained on the list, according to the State Department, because it maintained ties to terrorist groups and possessed “… the capability to manufacture WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and other destabilizing technologies that can get into the hands of terrorists.” In 2003, the Bush administration stated Pyongyang “… has not taken any substantial steps to cooperate in efforts to combat international terrorism.”

That view changed in 2008 when Pyongyang made delisting a denuclearization agreement precondition. That’s when the Bush administration began to ignore the evidence outlined in the CRS report.

It ignored the fact that Pyongyang kidnapped at least 10 Japanese citizens and harbored Japanese Red Army terrorists since the 1970s. Until 2008, the Bush administration routinely cited the kidnappings and the presence of Japanese Red Army terrorists as justification for including North Korea on the list.

CRS cites reports describing North Korean attempts to smuggle conventional arms, including machine guns and anti-tank rocket launchers, to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers), a U.S. Government designated foreign terrorist organization in Sri Lanka. Those reports indicate the Sri Lankan navy intercepted and attacked three North Korean ships carrying arms in separate 2006 and 2007 incidents.

North Korea’s relationship with Hizballah, an Iranian terrorist proxy that is also designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., continues. CRS cites 2006 and 2007 reports detailing an extensive program by North Korea to provide arms and training to Hizballah. The training provided to Hizballah cadre lasted months and included officials such as Hassan Nasrallah, Hizballah’s secretary-general. North Korean trainers masquerading as the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation went to southern Lebanon to teach Hizballah terrorists how to develop and construct underground military facilities.

North Korea allegedly provided special combat training to Hizballah. CRS cites a 2007 report of an agreement under which “… about 100 Hizballah field commanders would receive training in North Korea from North Korea’s elite commando infiltration units and also training on intelligence-gathering and counter-espionage.”

Mossad, an Israeli intelligence agency, is quoted by CRS as stating “vital missile components” of Hizballah missiles fired into Israel during the 2006 war came from North Korea. The report cites 2008 sources indicating after the 2006 war Hizballah received thousands of missiles from Iran with longer ranges to replenish its depleted war stocks. Those replacement missiles also included North Korean components.

North Korea’s relationship with the 125,000 strong Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG or Pasdaran), Tehran’s arm for supporting terrorist groups, is significant and demonstrates Pyongyang’s indirect support of terrorism. IRGC is subordinate to Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.

A 2007 State Department fact sheet asserts IRGC provides “material support” for the Iraqi Shia militants, Taliban, Hamas, Hizballah, and other terrorist groups. CRS cites the 2006 U.S. district court ruling that the IRGC recruited people who attacked Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, and killed 19 American servicemen. General David Petraeus, America’s commander in Iraq at the time, testified to Congress in 2008 that the IRGC was directing and supporting attacks of the Iraqi Shia against U.S. targets. The IRGC is Tehran’s conduit for directing and resupplying Hizballah and the facilitator of North Korea’s relationship with the group, according to CRS. There are numerous press reports of IRGC supplying weapons to Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan and Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Besides working with terrorist groups the IRGC is Tehran’s front organization for cooperating with Pyongyang on ballistic missiles and atomic weapons. The proliferation of WMD remains a key criterion for listing a country as a terrorism sponsor.

North Korean and IRGC ballistic missile cooperation dates back to at least 1993 when the IRGC commander, Major General Mohsen Rezaei, visited Pyongyang. The goal of that trip and subsequent in-country visits by other IRGC officials was to arrange Iran’s purchase of North Korean Nodong missiles. By 1997, CRS states, there were North Korean missile experts in Iran working on the Shahab 3 and 4, Tehran’s version of the Nodong. A 2003 Los Angeles Times report states “… many North Koreans are working on nuclear and missile projects in Iran.” CRS notes that a 15-man Iranian delegation reportedly observed the site of North Korea’s test of a Taepodong-II long-range missile on April 5, 2009.

The IRGC directs atomic programs for Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini. CRS cites a Los Angeles Times article that visits by North Korean nuclear specialists in 2003 led to an agreement to help the Iranians develop atomic warheads that could be fitted on North Korean Nodong or copycat Iranian Shahab missiles. The same article indicates North Koreans were seen at Iranian nuclear facilities in 2003 and as recently as February 2008 an Iranian delegation that included officials from Tehran’s atomic energy agency reportedly visited North Korea.

CRS indicates North Korean-IRGC cooperation includes the construction of bunkers and tunnels for Iran. A known North Korean expert on underground facilities, Myong Lyu-do, reportedly traveled to Tehran in 2005 to run Iran’s underground military facilities program. This team also worked jointly on the Syrian nuclear reactor that Israel bombed in September 2007 and IRGC planned to use one of its bases in Iran to process the plutonium from the Syrian reactor.

CRS identified two other IRGC- North Korea cooperative efforts. In 2008, Iranian and North Korean scientists worked at a chemical weapons plant in northern Syria and the IRGC received North Korean-made submarines at a military port in Syria.

North Korea has strong and enduring links with terrorist groups, which were ignored when the Bush administration delisted Pyongyang as a terrorist supporter to earn the communist’s cooperation on the denuclearization agreement. That deal backfired, and now North Korea continues its terrorist and WMD activities.

President Obama, with Congress’ insistence, must immediately relist North Korea as a terror supporting regime.