When U.S. sanctions against Iran officially started to take effect on Tuesday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was visiting Iran. Ri and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed “satisfaction with existing bilateral relations and called for further expansion of ties,” according to Iran’s official news agency. The two countries are seeking unified front against the United States as alliance is based on common enemies or threats. Ri is set to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.
North Korea and Iran have been accused of nuclear collusion. Former U.S. President George W. Bush labeled them as "axis of evil" along with Iraq. These two countries displayed their solidarity on the very same day the Trump administration announced that it would re-impose sanctions against Iran. Iranian multinational companies are likely to halt or withdraw their business as the United States is planning to ban all imports of Iranian oil from November.
North Korea’s visit to Iran amid a deadlock in negotiations with the United States over its nuclear weapons is sending a message to Washington that it may refuse denuclearization and go another way. North Korea and Iran share the same interests as they are facing U.S. sanctions on oil imports and exports, respectively. Pyongyang has not taken proper steps toward denuclearization and instead demanding lifting of sanctions and declaring the end of the Korean War in exchange for dismantling some of its nuclear sites without inspection from outside experts.
Washington is so determined, however. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said the United States’ response to Iran and North Korea is exactly the same. “We’re going to continue to apply maximum pressure to North Korea until they denuclearize, just as we are to Iran,” said Bolton using the term "maximum pressure," which he has refrained from using for some time. He stressed that the sanctions will not be eased until North Korea makes progress toward denuclearization.
North Korea’s close ties with Iran have put South Korea in an awkward position, too. Amid U.S. sanctions against these two countries, South Korea wants it to be an exception when it comes to importing oil from Iran. Moreover, importing coal from North Korea can also be an issue. Against this backdrop, South Korea should strengthen cooperation with the United States so that the trust between the two countries would not be undermined.