How Iran and North Korea Cooperate to Develop Missiles and Evade Sanctions

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In the fourth episode of Iran Watch Listen, we sit down with Neil Watts, who served for five years as the Maritime Expert on the United Nations Panel of Experts on North Korea. We discuss missile and arms-related cooperation between Iran and North Korea and how such collaboration has evolved over time, from the transfer of complete systems to the sharing of test data and technical expertise. Neil describes the "close working relationship" between Iran and North Korea on ballistic missile development, notably "leapfrog technologies" from North Korea that have allowed Iran to qualitatively increase its ballistic missile capabilities.

Our discussion also covers sanctions evasion methods used by Iran and North Korea, including ship-to-ship transfers, transshipment, splitting shipments among multiple containers and vessels, and hiding illicit items in bulk cargo.

The conversation took place on September 8 and was hosted by Valerie Lincy, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, and Treston Chandler, a Senior Research Associate at the Wisconsin Project.

Expert Bio

Neil Watts is a Senior Contributor at Compliance and Capacity Skills International and a Senior Research Associate at Kings College's Project Alpha. He served as the Maritime Expert on the United Nations Panel of Experts for North Korea from 2013 through 2018, where he investigated sanctions evasion and North Korea's sea-launched ballistic missile program. Neil had the unique opportunity during his service on the Panel to board and inspect several interdicted North Korean-flagged or controlled vessels, including the Chong Chon Gang, which was caught ferrying arms from Cuba to North Korea for repairs. He also served in the South African Navy for over 30 years, specializing in surface warfare and weapons systems. Neil has conducted extensive training for government and industry on sanctions, best practices, and due diligence and advises on maritime security.

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