News / Asia

New Reports Link N. Korean, Iranian Nuclear Programs

News media in Northeast Asia are reporting details of alleged cooperation between Iran and North Korea in trying to build atomic bombs. Such joint activities have been suspected for years.

South Korea’s foreign ministry and the national intelligence service say they cannot comment on fresh reports linking Pyongyang's atomic efforts to Iran.

Officials with the agencies considered at the forefront of monitoring North Korea's nuclear programs say the allegations, apparently leaked by diplomats in recent days, involve classified information.

IAEA assessment

The allegations follow last Tuesday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog.

The IAEA's most comprehensive assessment yet about Iran's nuclear programs details what it says is evidence of Iran's covert and continuous effort, since 2003, to build a nuclear bomb, going far beyond the stated goals of energy and medical research.

Last Friday, Iran's top envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, called the report a fabrication based on "lousy" intelligence by the United States and its allies.

The 25-page report has since been leaked and makes no mention of a link between Iran and North Korea.  But last Friday U.N. investigators gave a private technical presentation to the 35 member states of the IAEA Board of Governors.  Since then, diplomats have been quoted anonymously by South Korea media alleging that hundreds of North Korean scientists and engineers have been working at nuclear and missile facilities in Iran.

Covert trips

Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun says among the Iranian sites the North Koreans have been visiting are three research centers carrying out simulations of how to trigger nuclear weapons.

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, which conducts research and analysis for the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, says experts, for years, have been suspicious about this type of cooperation.

"There've been stories of Iranians at the nuclear tests in North Korea, for example," Bennett said.  "So if information is really being shared then you've got a much more dangerous situation because most people would argue that the North Korean nuclear program is out ahead of Iran and we don't want Iran having that assistance."

The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, in a report this year, characterized the cooperation as mutual.  It said North Korea has a technological edge over Iran in uranium enrichment and the manufacture of nuclear-related equipment, such as high-strength steel.  The IISS report said North Korea's weapons programs also benefit from Iranian technology.

Bennett, of the Rand Corporation, says the international community needs to pay more attention to the nuclear links between North Korea and Iran.

"But stopping that or even slowing it down is going to be complicated.  The people can travel to Iran without having to go through places where we can't stop them," he said.

The South Korean media reports say the North Koreans enter Iran covertly through other countries, such as Russia and China.  The North Koreans are said to be employed at 10 nuclear and missile facilities in Iran and are apparently rotated every few months.

Nuclear capability

The Washington Post
reported November 7 that Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the IAEA findings say that Iran has reached the threshold of nuclear capability with crucial technology linked to North Korea and Pakistan.

Iran and North Korea were customers of the network run by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.  And both countries are under United Nations economic sanctions for their nuclear programs.

U.S. President Barack Obama, at the conclusion of Sunday's APEC Summit in Hawaii, told reporters the sanctions against Tehran have had "enormous bite" and he will consult with other nations about additional steps to prevent Iran for acquiring an atomic weapon.

North Korea has also been accused in U.N. and other reports of possibly supplying not only Iran but also Syria and Burma with banned atomic technology.

In August, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported North Korea had provided Iran with a computer program that can help scientists identify self-sustaining chain reactions, vital for the construction of reactors and also in the development of nuclear explosives.

Tracking cooperation


Analysts say they have also been tracking, since the 1980s, cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran on missile development.

Of utmost concern is whether North Korea has given Iran some Russian designed advanced missiles. There is no evidence, however, that either North Korea or Iran has flight-tested the missile, known as the BM-25 or Musudan.

Russia denies its existence.  Some analysts contend previous public displays of the Musudan in Pyongayng military parades were merely fakes. The missile is believed to be based on the former Soviet Union’s R-27, a submarine-launched missile with a range of between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers, designed to carry nuclear warheads.

In a presentation at a think tank seminar in Seoul last week, Bennett of the Rand Corporation, said there is wide speculation about the size of North Korea's possible nuclear weapons arsenal. He said Pyongyang may not have any weapons yet but could have "as many as 20" with the number of reliable ones ranging between two and 16.

But Bennett is adamant that it would be wrong to characterize North Korea as a nuclear power because it has not demonstrated a working atomic bomb, despite carrying out tests of nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations. They fought a three-year civil war to a stalemate in the early 1950's. They technically remain at war as no peace treaty has ever been signed.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs