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Israel Reaches out to North Korea to Try to Stem Arms Sales to Iran

Israeli diplomats are quietly increasing contact with North Korean officials in an effort to stop that country’s sale of missiles to Iran, according to recent news reports here and abroad.

North Korea, which currently has no formal relations with Israel, may also be warming up to Israel in order to improve its relations with the United States, the reports said.

The United States has imposed restrictions on commercial relations with North Korea because of that country’s refusal to fully cooperate with the Atomic Energy Commission and allow inspections of its nuclear sites.

Israel, however, sent a delegation last October to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang under the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general, Eitan Bentsur.

The official purpose of this visit was strictly business; the North Koreans wanted to investigate the possibility of Israel’s assistance in operating a gold mine in the north of the country.

Bentsur was accompanied by a number of Israeli geologists to look at a site in Untsan, where five large gold mines were shut down a few years ago.

The visit was partly arranged through an unnamed American Jewish businessman who has ties in North Korea as well as an unofficial trade representative that North Korea posts in Washington.

According to foreign sources, these were not the first Israelis to visit North Korea.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVE TO STOP SALES

Some reports have said Israel is using the contacts to offer North Korea an economic incentive to stop missile sales to Iran in return for Israeli and Jewish investment in North Korea.

According to this version, Israel has essentially asked the United States for permission to hold these discussions, which America has reluctantly given.

However, a report in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz depicts Israel as a middleman being used by both North Korea and the United States to reconcile the one-time fierce foes.

According to Professor Ben-Ami Shiloni of the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University, North Korea, in the tradition of many countries that have recently established relations with Israel, believes that the path to Washington passes through Jerusalem.

Within these countries, the Jewish lobby in the United States is seen to have enormous influence over the U.S. administration.

Along with China, North Korea remains one of the last strict Communist regimes, run tyrannically by Kim II-Sung, who is 81.

China, a prominent friend of North Korea, has welcomed the contacts with Israel and, according to foreign sources, stands behind the official invitation received by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to visit North Korea.

Shiloni said he believes Israel must accept the invitation and convince America to approve it.

“The mistake we made in the 1950s — when (then Prime Minister David) Ben-Gurion submitted to the dictates of the United States and canceled the plan to establish diplomatic relations with China — must not be repeated,” Shiloni said.

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