Family Security Matters
The most recent talks in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif may have completed a major step toward a landmark nuclear accord that the Obama Administration believes will diminish Tehran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. The potential deal, as reported by the AP and The New York Times, would impose uranium stockpile and enrichment limitations on Iran, and Tehran would have to submit to a restrictive verification and inspection regime for a period of 10 to 15 years. In return, sanctions on Iran would be lifted, and its status as a uranium-enriching nation would be prescribed under international law.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz stated , however, that if the emerging US – Iran nuclear agreement did not include measures preventing any nuclear cooperation with North Korea or other rogue states, it would be meaningless, referring to North Korea’s previous clandestine and illegal nuclear projects in Syria – “We all know that Iran, Syria and North Korea are very close to each other,” he said.
Yet the Obama Administration appears to ignore this potential loophole in order to conclude an agreement acceptable to Iran. Unless specifically prohibited and enforced within the terms and conditions, Tehran may attempt to sidestep the protocols by “outsourcing'” parts of the bomb production process to North Korea, Iran’s long-term partner on everything from launch missiles to guidance systems to nuclear war head technology and other required components.
North Korean experts and workers remain in Iran, while Tehran sends its own experts to observe North Korean missile launches and monitor Pyongyang’s plan for staging a fourth underground nuclear explosion. If North Korea’s next test, long-scheduled for March 2015, is uranium-based, that could mesh neatly with Iran’s ongoing effort to produce weapons-grade uranium. The key point here is that Iran in a cooperative, covert way with North Korea and Russia, can test its nuclear capability and readiness under a blanket of security. President Assad of Syria took the same route for its nuclear background. The Nuclear Coalition of Iran North Korea, Syria, China and Russia is alive and well and progressing to advanced nuclear readiness, and their target —the United States and Israel.
It is interesting to note that in February 2014, Zarif, who is now negotiating with Kerry, returned to Tehran from the first round of nuclear talks in Vienna, one of his first meetings was with a visiting North Korean deputy foreign minister, Ri Gil Song. Iran’s Fars News Agency reported that the meeting was devoted to “bolstering and reinvigorating the two countries’ bilateral ties,” as well as mutually assuring each other of their right to “peaceful nuclear technology.” Less than five weeks later North Korea issued a threat to conduct its fourth test of a nuclear bomb.
According to a February 20, 2015 Forbes article, the nuclear exchange revolves around North Korea’s program for developing warheads with highly enriched uranium. 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, as well as supplying uranium mined in its remote mountain regions. North Korea is also helping Iran pursue a second track, building a plutonium reactor, similar to the North’s program to construct a nuclear plant in Syria with a plutonium reactor, which was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in September 2007. Nuclear weapons testing of all systems, whether in Iran, North Korea or Syria, have country teams attending and sharing each developmental technology event.
In that regard, a new Western intelligence assessment cited by a January 9, 2015 Der Spiegel article entitled “Assad’s Secret: Evidence Points to Syrian Push for Nuclear Weapons,” claims that the Syrian government, with the assistance of Iran, North Korea, and Hezbollah has renewed operations in an underground and clandestine nuclear facility near Qusair, close to the border of Lebanon, in order to produce nuclear weapons.
The foundations for nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran have long been in place. They are close allies, drawn together by decades of weapons deals and mutual hatred of the United States. Weapons-hungry Iran has oil; oil-hungry North Korea makes weapons that are often clandestinely shipped through China, confirmed by a leaked secret South African intelligence report. North Korea has been supplying increasingly sophisticated missiles and missile technology to Iran since the 1980s and both North Korea and Iran were part of Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network, which spread nuclear blueprints and material among its clients until it was exposed by the U.S. a decade ago.
In 2002, Kim Yong Nam, currently the president of the Supreme People’s Assembly, led the North Korean delegation to Damascus, Syria, where it signed an agreement believed to have been related to Syria building a clandestine copy of Pyongyang’s plutonium-producing reactor, the one later bombed by the Israeli Air Force. Kim’s work has also made him a frequent visitor to Tehran. In 2012, Kim was Pyongyang’s representative at the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Tehran, where he and then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad witnessed the signing of a scientific and technological agreement, which included setting up joint scientific and technological laboratories, the exchange of scientific teams, and the transfer of technology in the fields of information technology, energy, environment, agriculture, and food. Of particular concern would be the transfer of advanced P-2 centrifuge technology, which North Korea has mastered and is significantly more efficient than those currently used by Iran.
Despite the overwhelming circumstantial evidence of North Korean – Iranian nuclear cooperation, critics cite the April 16, 2014 Congressional Research Service report that concludes:
“no public [emphasis added] evidence exists that Iran and North Korea have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation with each other, although ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two is significant and meaningful…”
Why would anyone necessarily expect there to be “public” evidence, when, in nearly all other matters, cooperation between North Korea and Iran is secret?
The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
In an atmosphere where Iran has been consistently working against longstanding US counterterror and counter-proliferation objectives, it would not be safe to assume as Barack Obama apparently does that a deal on the nuclear question will unlock a cooperative spirit in Tehran, but one should conclude the opposite, perceived by both Iran and North Korea as a sign of weakness and a signal for a more aggressive posture.
As Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, notes, Obama believes that globalization and economic integration will induce Tehran to forgo its nuclear ambitions. Meanwhile Iran’s rulers are growing stronger, bolder, and ever closer to nuclear breakout capacity.
Having bested the most powerful country on earth in their drive for success on their own terms, both Iran and North Korea have good reason to feel confident.
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