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(News Focus) Iran voices opposition to N. Korea's nuclear program

All Headlines 17:10 May 03, 2016

By Kim Kwang-tae

TEHRAN, May 3 (Yonhap) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has sent a clear message to North Korea over its nuclear weapons program: Tehran is against nuclear weapons.

“We are, in principle, opposed to any nuclear development," Rouhani said Monday in a joint news conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye after their summit in Tehran. “Our basic position is that nuclear weapons should be removed from the Korean Peninsula."

Rouhani stopped short of directly naming North Korea, but his message is widely seen as a rare public rebuke to a country suspected of cooperating with Iran on missile and nuclear programs for decades.

This strongest rhetoric yet also came as a surprise to Iranian officials, according to a senior South Korean official who is in a position to know Iranian reactions.

Yun Duk-min, head of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul, described Rouhani’s public comments as “big progress,” given Iran’s past cooperation with North Korea on missile and nuclear programs.

"I think Iran has displayed its changed image to the international community” following a nuclear deal, Yun said.

The U.N. has lifted sanctions on Iran in a follow-up to a nuclear deal reached with the United States and five world powers over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

Kim Kyou-hyun, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, said South Korea’s cooperation with Iran in various fields on the occasion of Park’s trip could put “considerable pressure on North Korea.”

Rouhani “has cleverly, though tacitly, expressed his worry about the production and testing of nuclear weapons by North Korea,” Mohammad Ali Saki, deputy editor-in-chief of the Tehran Times, said.

Tehran has summoned North Korea’s ambassador to Iran to voice its opposition to nuclear weapons development.

South Korea and Iran said in a joint statement after the first summit of their leaders in more than half a century that they shared the view that nuclear weapons development can never enhance security.

The statement is a clear rejection of North Korea’s long-standing position that its nuclear program is a powerful deterrent against what it claims is Washington's hostile policy towards it.

Iran also expressed support for the aspirations of the Korean people for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.

The developments came amid calls for North Korea to follow in the footsteps of Iran in curbing its nuclear activities and joining the international community.

Iran, which has 80 million people, has emerged as a promising market for foreign investments following the lifting of international sanctions earlier this year.

Yun was cautious about whether Rouhani’s comments will translate into any concrete action, citing traditional relations between Pyongyang and Tehran.

Robert Einhorn, former special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the U.S. State Department, said North Korea has transferred missile technology to Iran, and much of Iran’s missile program comes from North Korean technology.

“There are recent reports that there are ongoing collaborations between the North and Iran and concerns that that collaboration could conceivably extend to the nuclear area,” Einhorn told reporters in Seoul last month.

It remains unclear whether Iran’s latest pressure will make any difference on North Korea.

Speculation has grown that North Korea could carry out a fifth nuclear test to mark a rare congress of the ruling Workers' Party scheduled for Friday.

North Korea appears to be "plotting further strategic provocations including a nuclear test, the test-firing of a Musudan intermediate range missile and another submarine-launched ballistic missile launch," the Defense Ministry said in a parliamentary report.

Einhorn said Iran claims that nuclear weapons are against Islam, that they never sought to have nuclear weapons, and that they are prepared to commit to never having them.

“North Korea is proud that it has achieved nuclear weapons capability,” he said. “North Korea’s current leader apparently believes that the retention of nuclear weapons is critical to giving this regime legitimacy, critical to the survival of the regime. So it is hard to dissuade them at this point.”


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