(photo credit: WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY)
WASHINGTON – A top foreign policy reporter recently fired by The Wall Street Journal has been hired by one of Washington’s top think tanks to conduct research on North Korea’s weapons proliferation across the Middle East.
Jay Solomon will serve for three months as a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, focusing on Pyongyang’s sale of missile systems from Yemen and Egypt to Syria and Iran.
“I’m glad that we’re able to do this with Jay – he’s such a dogged reporter,” said Robert Satloff, executive director of the institute. “He has been quietly working on North Korea for some time now, and we’re rather single-minded here at the Washington Institute with staying in our lane on the Middle East. So this intersection is natural.”
North Korea’s connections with regional governments are of increasing concern to the Trump administration, which this past week denied aid to Cairo in part due to its steadfast relationship with Pyongyang.
Solomon, in a phone call, said that virtually every single missile system in the Arab world has some tieback to the regime in the North. He will also examine the DPRK’s role in developing the chemical and nuclear weapons programs in Syria and Iran.
“I still don’t think we have hard proof of nuclear cooperation – we know they’ve cooperated on missile work,” Solomon said of the North’s relationship with Tehran, noting that the two governments signed a scientific cooperation pact in 2012. “But there are credible stories that Iranians attended some of the North’s nuclear tests.”
Solomon was let go from the WSJ in June after his correspondence with an Iranian source leaked to the Associated Press, revealing exchanges that raised questions over the nature of their relationship. The source – Farhad Azima, an Iranian aviation mogul who was already under investigation by the wire service – offered Solomon a stake in a new venture by email.
Solomon’s reply signaled interest to some. But no evidence exists that a partnership formed, and Solomon denies anything came of it.
“Jay has been very forthright about recognizing the professional lapse that he had, and in terms of who he associated with – not that he ever acted on these discussions that occurred,” Satloff said. “I appreciated his candor and his openness, and recognize that people make certain mistakes in life – but it should not cloud that he’s an absolutely outstanding reporter, fact finder and storyteller.”
“It’s time for him to move on, and I’m very excited to have him,” Satloff said.
Solomon said he looks back fondly at his two decades at the WSJ and regrets the episode.
“I’m just sad about the whole thing. Dealing with Iran is so murky – it’s hard to fully understand what your sources are doing,” Solomon said. “I am not an arms dealer, I didn’t go to business with anyone.”
“The whole thing is sort of preposterous when you really think of it,” he added.
Solomon was stationed in Seoul from 2000 to 2003 and has visited North Korea “several times,” he said in the interview. He was first to break news of talks between Tehran and the Obama administration over Iran’s nuclear work in 2013, and is author of Iran Wars
, a book on the diplomatic effort.