ORBES ASIA 2/20/2015 @ 5:56AM 767 views
http://www.forbes.com/sites/ donaldkirk/2015/02/20/irans- irans-long-time-partnership- with-north-korea-on-nukes-and- missiles-may-scuttle-a-real- deal/print/
Iran’s Partnership With North Korea On Nukes And Missiles May Scuttle Any Deal
The agreement the U.S. is hammering out with Iran for downsizing Iran’s nuclear program seems to be leaving one wild card out of the deal. That’s North Korea’s long-term partnership with Iran on everything from missiles to nuclear technology and components.
While negotiators haggle over the number of centrifuges Iran should keep in its inventory, North Korean engineers, technicians and laborers remain in Iran assisting in constructing and operating the facilities that are the point of all the debate. South Korean intelligence sources estimate hundreds of North Koreans are in Iran as part of an exchange of nuclear know-how as well as missiles made in North Korea.
Whether North Korea can maintain the relationship with the same impunity with which it’s been dealing with Iran for more than 20 years is not clear. Sanctions, intensified by President Obama in early January after North Korean cyber warriors got into Sony Entertainment’s system, may have made it more difficult to ship Ro-dong and Scud missiles to Iran via Beijing, as the North had been doing for years.
Still, North Korea and Iran are believed to be exchanging critical stuff – North Korean experts and workers remaining in place while Iran sends observers to check out intermittent North Korean missile launches and see what North Korea is doing about staging a fourth underground nuclear explosion.
The nuclear exchange revolves around North Korea’s program for developing warheads with highly enriched uranium – with centrifuges and centrifuge technology in part acquired from Iran. At the same time, North Korea is able to assist Iran in miniaturizing warheads to fit on missiles – a goal the North has long been pursuing – and also can supply uranium and other metals mined in its remote mountain regions.
“North Korea continues to supply technology, components, and even raw materials for Iran’s HEU weaponization program,” says Bruce Bechtol, author of numerous books and studies on North Korea’s military and political ambitions. Moreover, he says, “They are even helping Iran to pursue a second track by helping them to build a plutonium reactor.”
That assessment supports the view of analysts that Iran is counting on North Korean expertise in constructing a reactor that produces warheads with plutonium. The reactor would be a more powerful version of the aging five-megawatt “experimental” reactor with which the North has built perhaps a dozen warheads at its nuclear complex at Yongbyon, including three that it’s tested underground – in October 2006, May 2009 and February 2013, two years ago this month.
A South Korean intelligence analyst likened the North’s program to its previous attempt at building a nuclear plant for Syria a number of years ago. Israeli air warplanes destroyed that plant while it was still under construction, complete with a plutonium reactor, in September 2007, effectively ending the drive of President Hafez al-Assad for Syria to become a nuclear power well before civil strife swept his country.
North Korea’s partnership with Iran is far more extensive and durable than with Syria though the North still maintains close ties with the Assad regime. Evidence of the North’s ongoing relationship with Iran is that two North Koreans based there are named in the latest U.S. sanctions among ten worldwide with whom there should be no dealings.
The two, according to the sanctions, are representatives of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, cited as “Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.” Earlier listed “for its role in North Korea’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” KOMID was sanctioned by the UN in April 2009 a few weeks before the North’s second nuclear test.
“KOMID has offices in multiple countries around the world,” says the sanction order, “and facilitates weapons sales for the North Korean government.”
The implications of North Korea’s partnership with Iran rank high among Israel’s concerns – and may come up when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 expresses his misgivings to Congress about the deal the U.S. is negotiating with Iran.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz has cited the Iran-North Korean connection as a critical stumbling block to a real deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
“If this loophole is not closed, and if Iran under an agreement can have some kind of research and development, knowledge exchange and participation in other countries like North Korea,” he was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as telling a briefing, “then this is also the way to bypass an agreement by simply not doing it alone in Iran, but by cooperating with North Korea or other rogue countries.”
The Iranian and North Korean positions differ, however, in one critical respect. Iran insists it’s only interested in producing nuclear power and denies it’s on the way to producing a nuclear warhead. North Korea, showing no signs of building a nuclear power plant, boasts of its prowess as a nuclear weapons power.
While negotiations are going on with Iran, North Korea has ruled out talks on its nuclear weapons program and is often rumored to be preparing for a fourth underground test – possibly with highly enriched uranium and centrifuges fabricated with the help of Iranian engineers.
To read more of my commentaries on Asia news, click onwww.donaldkirk.com, and the details of my books are available here.