14:43 GMT27 November 2020
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    A former North Korean diplomat and interpreter has alleged that North Korea's ambassador to Sweden made Tel Aviv the offer in 1999.

    Former interpreter Thae Yong Ho said that the billion dollar buyout proposal was presented to Gideon Ben Ami, Israel's envoy in Sweden, by North Korean Ambassador Son Mu Sin, and applied to conventional weapons, ballistic missiles and nuclear technology. The ex-diplomat, who defected to South Korea in 2016, outlined the details of the alleged deal in a new memoir, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    Israel reportedly rejected the offer, proposing food aid instead. The talks were said to have gone nowhere, and Pyongyang continued to fulfill its conventional munitions and missile contracts with countries with which Israel has hostile relations.

    The Israeli government refused a request for comment by the Israeli media. Iran earlier denied that it had had talks with North Korea on nuclear technology. The Wall Street Journal could not get a comment from either of the two former senior diplomats allegedly involved in the negotiations.

    Last week, Gideon Ben Ami confirmed that he had met with North Korean officials on several occasions in 1999 and 2002, but made no mention of the claims made in Thae's book. The deputy head of the Asia desk at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Tzvi Gabbai, told a broadcaster last week that Tel Aviv had indeed told Pyongyang that it would help with agriculture or "perhaps financially" if North Korea "would stop selling weapons to Syria and Iran or if they would open diplomatic relations with Israel." Pyongyang has yet to comment on these claims.

    North Korea does not officially recognize Israel, denouncing it as an "imperialist satellite" of the US. Instead, Pyongyang recognizes Palestinian sovereignty over Israeli lands. North Korea has been accused of selling weapons and missile technology to various Israeli adversaries, including Iran, Syria, Libya and Egypt, over the course of many decades. Following the 2007 Israeli strike on an alleged nuclear facility in Syria, Western and Israeli media claimed that nearly a dozen North Korean nuclear scientists were also killed in the attack. Damascus rejected the suggestion that the facility had any military purpose, dismissing allegations of a nuclear program as "ridiculous" and reminiscent of the claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 invasion. Israel formally acknowledged that it carried out the 2007 strike in March 2018.

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