By Stewart Stogel
NEW YORK – In his final years in power, the late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein reached out to North Korea for help to obtain missiles, according to several U.N, U.S. and International Atomic Energy Agency officials.
Had he not been stopped, those channels might have been used to obtain nuclear weapons from North Korea, the sources said.
Saddam had been negotiating the purchase of banned rockets and possibly technology that could have revived his dormant nuclear weapons program, the sources report.
The meetings between Saddam and the North Koreans were facilitated by the current government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who himself is fighting to remain in power.
“There were several meetings between the Iraqis and North Korea in Damascus from 2001-2003,” explained David Kay.
Kay, who led a CIA-Pentagon Iraq search team shortly after the U.S. toppled Saddam, said that an agreement between the Iraqis and North Koreans had been reached and that some money changed hands.
“Everything can be had for the right price,” Kay said, referring to North Korean efforts to sell what they could to raise much-needed hard currency.
While Kay was not able to verify that Saddam was trying to revive his dormant nuclear program, he said had Saddam’s nascent missile agreement been allowed to continue, a nuclear purchase might have been possible.
According to Kay, Saddam was growing increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang, which repeatedly fell behind schedule in delivering the promised missiles.
Said Kay, “Saddam actually paid money, but the North Koreans kept on delaying and asking for more money until Saddam cut them off.”
Only weeks later, Saddam was gone and went into hiding to escape the invading U.S. and U.K. troops.
The issue of North Korean involvement in the Middle East came up during a North Korean visit to New York City last week.
“You bet it came up,” said Evans Revere, a former State Department negotiator who participated in a meeting between North Korea’s team and a group of private U.S. citizens.
Revere explained that he could not reveal the North Korean reaction under a gag rule imposed for granting the meeting.
Revere did disclose that when he was at the State Department, there was a constant concern about Pyongyang selling nuclear technology “for the right price.”
“(Nuclear) proliferation was always a constant concern, and we raised it constantly,” he said.
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council convened a rare ministerial meeting on the crisis in the Middle East.
The foreign ministers of the U.S., France, U.K., Russia, Germany and Pakistan were in attendance.
Officially, the meeting was designed to pressure Assad into a cease-fire. Unofficially, the members were struggling to seek ways to cut off continuing outside assistance to the Damascus regime.
The assistance, say diplomats, is coming from Iran and North Korea.
Dimitri Perricos, a former senior IAEA field inspector, was also the chief deputy to Hans Blix at the U.N. and succeeded Blix as the last U.N. Iraq arms inspector.
It was Perricos, while at the IAEA, who uncovered North Korea’s secret nuclear weapons program.
He suspected that Saddam might have had a plan to revive his nuclear weapons program, but it never got off the ground, thanks to the U.S.
“There has been a lot of news about the DPRK’s involvement in the supply of various material and expert knowledge in the area of nuclear material production and military use. … Any customer willing to pay could get assistance. … There was a contract with Iran found after the war that was not implemented. … In the field of proliferation, there was great competition with Khan network.”
The Khan network was the rogue operation of A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist who had been placed under house arrest by the Islamabad government for illegal nuclear proliferation.
While Saddam’s attempts to revive his nuclear program remain a subject of debate, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton told WND that nothing surprises him on the subject of North Korea and its arms policies.
“North Korea has teamed up with other rogue states for years, starting at least as far back as 1988 with Iran on ballistic missiles.” Bolton said. ” … No one should be surprised if the DPRK was cooperating with Saddam Hussein. The ‘axis of evil’ was always more than just a catchy phrase.”
The United Nations missions of Iraq, North Korea and South Korea had no comment on the Iraq-North Korea arms agreement.
Charles Duelfer, who succeeded Kay as the CIA-Pentagon Iraq survey director was also unreachable for comment.