The North Korea-Iran Relationship: An Anti-American Alliance or Transactional Partnership?

November 24, 2021

Weapon Program: 

  • Military

Author: 

Samuel Ramani

Publication: 

38 North

Related Country: 

  • North Korea

Four decades after the Iranian Revolution, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) maintains a close partnership with Iran. On June 20, 2021, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un congratulated Ebrahim Raisi on his presidential election victory and wished him success in “building a powerful Iran.” This rhetoric coincided with evidence of growing security cooperation between the two countries. A recent United Nations (UN) report revealed that North Korea and Iran are cooperating on long-term missile development projects, which included the shipment of parts in 2020. North Korea’s hypersonic missile tests have also raised concerns about technology transfers to Iran, which developed a testing facility for hypersonic weapons in 2014.

Although North Korea’s partnership with Iran is often explained by shared anti-American sentiments, the Tehran-Pyongyang relationship is more complicated than it appears. While their relationship appears unassailably strong, the Iran-DPRK partnership has been beset by periodic disagreements, and North Korea remains a wedge issue between Iranian reformists and conservatives. The main areas of Iran-DPRK cooperation lie in the spheres of military technology, especially ballistic missiles, and in Pyongyang’s close relationship with Tehran-aligned proxy militias in the Middle East. Therefore, Iran and North Korea possess a transactional partnership, which can threaten US interests but is also prone to considerable fluctuations.

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