A new book by a former top North Korean diplomat claims Pyongyang made an offer to Israel in 1999: It would stop supplying Iran with missile technology in exchange for $1 billion in cash.
The offer to halt weapons sales to Tehran and other enemies of Israel was made by North Korea’s ambassador in Sweden to his Israeli counterpart at a Stockholm cafe, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing the recently published Korean-language memoir of former top North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho.
Thae defected to South Korea in 2016.
Israel refused the offer, but a few days later offered to send food aid to North Korea, the book claims.
The Wall Street Journal was unable to confirm the meeting or the offer, saying it was unable to contact the then-Israeli ambassador Gideon Ben Ami or the North Korean envoy, Son Mu Sin.
However, last week Ben Ami told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster that he held a series of secret talks with the ambassador from Pyongyang between 1999 and 2002.
He told Kan that the North Koreans initiated the contacts, congratulating Israel on the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister.
Tzvi Gabbai, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asia desk at the time, told Kan, “We told them that we wanted to help them with agriculture or perhaps financially, but only if they would stop selling weapons to Syria and Iran or if they would open diplomatic relations with Israel.”
He said that Pyongyang rejected Israel’s offer.
The Wall Street Journal cited an expert on North Korean arms deals, who said the regime has been selling conventional and ballistic weapons to Iran since the early 1980s.
Another expert cited by the paper noted the similarities between Iran’s Shahab-3 and Khorramshahr missiles and North Korea’s Nodong and Musudan missiles, which point to collaboration between the two nations.
North Korea also helped Syria construct a nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force on the night between September 5 and 6, 2007.
The Syrian facility was almost identical to the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea, which produced plutonium for nuclear bombs. When Israel struck, the Syrians were only weeks away from beginning to produce highly radioactive materials. Ten North Korean scientists were reportedly killed in the strike.
Earlier in the 1990s Israel’s Foreign Ministry attempted to reach out to Pyongyang, hoping to convince them to end their weapons deals with countries hostile to Israel.
At that time the idea that Israel would make a $1 billion investment in North Korea was also floated by Pyongyang.
However, according to diplomats involved, the attempt was scuttled by the Mossad and then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who didn’t trust Pyongyang, and also due to concern from the US and South Korea.
In June, US President Donald Trump held a high-profile meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at which both sides agreed to denuclearization of the peninsula. However on Sunday Kim delivered a dose of harsh reality to Trump and bashed hopes for a quick deal in a pointed rebuke to Trump’s top envoy, accusing the US of making “gangster-like” demands.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials completed two days of talks on Saturday. The two sides are still at odds on all issues, including on exactly what denuclearization means and on the return of US remains from the Korean War.
Pompeo left the North Korean capital for Tokyo on an optimistic note. But the North blasted the discussions, saying the visit had been “regrettable” and that Washington’s “gangster-like” demands were aimed at forcing it to abandon nuclear weapons.
Raphael Ahren and AP contributed to this report.