Egypt and Peru Heed U.S. Calls to Isolate North Korea

By Patrick Goodenough | September 13, 2017 | 4:22 AM EDT

Diplomatic and military ties between North Korea and Egypt date back half a century. (Image: Egyptian State Information Service)

( – Egypt says it has severed all military ties with North Korea, the latest international response to the regime’s nuclear test and missile launches.

And Peru’s foreign ministry announced Monday it was giving North Korean ambassador Kim Hak-chol five days to leave the country, after declaring him persona non grata.

Egypt’s defense minister assured his South Korean counterpart about the severing of military ties during a visit to Seoul Monday, the South Korean state news agency Yonhap reported, citing the defense ministry.

It said Egypt’s Sedki Sobhi was responding to a request by South Korean defense minister Song Young-moo “to join efforts to toughen sanctions on the North for its recent ballistic missile and nuclear tests.”

The move comes three weeks after the Trump administration cut more than $95 million in aid to Egypt and delayed transmission of another $195 million in response both to human rights abuses and Cairo’s military relationship with North Korea.

Although the State Department at the time focused more on the human rights concerns, spokeswoman Heather Nauert did say at an August 24 briefing that the U.S. was having “conversations with Egypt and many other countries around the world about the need to isolate” North Korea.

“We do that because we recognize that countries around the world that do business with North Korea enable money to go into North Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic weapons programs,” she said.

Nauert added that the U.S. has a “deep and multifaceted relationship” with Egypt – but that North Korea “is a big concern to the United States.”

Last July, President Trump in a phone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi discussed North Korea. A White House readout said Trump had “stressed the need for all countries to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea, stop hosting North Korean guest workers, and stop providing economic or military benefits to North Korea.”

Egypt’s military-to-military ties with North Korea are deliberately low-profile but date back decades. North Korea symbolically sent two fighter pilots to Egypt during the Arabs’ 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel.

Pyongyang reportedly played a leading role in helping Egypt to develop missile capabilities in the 1980s and beyond.

In 1996, U.S. intelligence agencies detected at least seven shipments from North Korea to Egypt of Scud-C missile components, and three Egyptian companies were designated for U.S. sanctions in 1999 for missile proliferation activity with Pyongyang.

Diplomatic relations go back a long way too:

Cairo established diplomatic ties with Pyongyang back in 1963, but South Korea had to wait until 1995 before its relations with Egypt reached that level. Then-President Hosni Mubarak visited North Korea several times between 1983 and 1990.  Egypt is one of just 24 countries to have embassies in Pyongyang.

Egypt’s State Information Service says that relations with North Korea crystallized “during a historical era that was crowned by the calls of the people calling for national liberation and the struggle against colonialism and the struggle for freedom.”

The SIS also points out that Egypt regularly supports North Korea at the U.N. by opposing annual votes critical of the regime’s human rights record.

Persona non grata

Meanwhile, the Peruvian foreign ministry, in expelling the North Korean ambassador, cited North Korea’s “repeated and flagrant violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions” and said it has ignored repeated calls by the international community to “irreversibly and verifiably terminate its nuclear program.”

The step by Peru came four days after Mexico expelled North Korean ambassador Kim Hyong-gil.

The U.S. has been urging countries to cut diplomatic, military and economic ties with Pyongyang, a plea directed specifically at Latin American nations during a visit to the region last month by Vice President Mike Pence.

President Trump suggested after this month’s nuclear test that the U.S. was considering stopping all trade with any country that does business with North Korea.

According to data compiled by the Observatory of Economic Complexity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, China is by far North Korea’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 85 percent of North Korea’s imports, and the destination for 83 percent of North Korea’s exports.

The next biggest importers of North Korean goods are India (3.5 percent), Pakistan (1.5 percent) and Burkina Faso (1.2 percent).

The next biggest suppliers of goods to North Korea are India (3.1 percent), Thailand (2.1 percent) and the Philippines (1.5 percent).

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on North Korea on Tuesday, Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea said the Treasury has not “seen sufficient evidence of China’s willingness to truly shut down North Korean revenue flows.”

The U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously adopted a new sanctions resolution, targeting the Kim Jong-un regime’s fuel imports and textile exports, among other things.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow