“Axis of Evil” is a phrase rarely heard in today’s political debates. But however you characterize the two remaining charter regimes of that trio (“evil” seems to me quite accurate)– North Korea and Iran — there is definitely an axis there. The more you look, the more you find, from conventional weapons traffic to a long-running partnership in proliferation, including interlinked procurement networks, and the Scientific Cooperation Agreement these two governments signed last September in Tehran.
But here’s an aspect of that axis that few in the West now seem to recall. It didn’t begin with President George W. Bush linking the two countries in a post-Sept. 11 speech. It goes back much earlier than that. It’s an axis that specifically received a joint and personal stamp of approval more than two decades ago from North Korea’s founding tyrant, the late Great Leader Kim Il Sung, and Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Great Leader and Supreme Leader met in person in 1989, when Khamenei traveled to Pyongyang, to lavish praise on Kim Il Sung for daring to confront the Great Satan, the country that Khamenei described as their mutual enemy, the United States of America. Khamenei told Kim, Sr., that anti-Americanism could be “the most important factor” in Iran’s cooperation with North Korea.
To this day, the Kim family totalitarian regime continues to explore the limits of just how much regimes profoundly hostile to America can get away with, and Iran avails itself of the findings. This grows ever more dangerous, as North Korea discovers it can carry out long-range missile and nuclear tests, threaten to incinerate Washington and Seoul, advertise its intentions to conduct additional tests, and the U.S. superpower will do … nothing that actually stops this trajectory. More about this in my column on “The Pyongyang-Tehran Proliferation Playbook.”
Here they are, up close, hand-in-hand, the Axis of Supreme Leader and Great Leader, Dateline: Pyongyang, May, 1989. (Khamenei was then president of Iran; he became Supreme Leader following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, less than a month after this meeting in Pyongyang took place.)