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Iran-North Korea nuclear link-up: The West’s worst nightmare
Experts say a Tehran-Pyongyang atom cooperation would be logical but hard to substantiate as reports point to North Korea supplying neutron flow software to Iran.
September 18, 2011 3:32 by Reuters
It is one of the West’s biggest nuclear proliferation nightmares — that increasingly isolated Iran and North Korea might covertly trade know-how, material or technology that could be put to developing atomic bombs.
“Such a relationship would be logical and beneficial to both North Korea and Iran,” said Mark Hibbs, an expert of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Last year, a UN report suggested that impoverished, reclusive North Korea might have supplied Iran as well as Syria and Myanmar with banned atomic technology.
In what could be a sign of this, a German newspaper last month reported that North Korea had provided Iran with a computer programme as part of intensified cooperation that could help the Islamic state build nuclear weapons.
“There are reports and rumours, which governments and the IAEA (the UN International Atomic Energy Agency) have not denied, indicating that there may be a track record of bilateral nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran,” Hibbs said.
But while this could make sense for two states facing tightening sanctions — and potentially earn Pyongyang some badly needed funds — the extent and nature of any such dealings, if they take place at all, remain shrouded in mystery.
“It seems to be very difficult to sort out what the relationship in the nuclear world between DPRK (North Korea) and Iran is. We just simply do not know,” prominent US nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker said.
This was in contrast to missile cooperation between the two countries, where North Korea has helped Iran both with the weapons and in building related factories, he said.
Hecker, who has often visited the east Asian state, said possible Tehran-Pyongyang atomic technology transfers would be a major concern for everyone dedicated to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Iran’s nuclear programme is based on uranium enrichment, activity which can have both civilian and military purposes.
North Korea has twice tested plutonium-based nuclear devices, drawing international condemnation, although it last year revealed the existence also of a uranium enrichment site, potentially giving it a second pathway to bombs.
“They complement each other so well (in terms of their expertise). There is just a lot of synergy in how they would be able to exchange capabilities,” Hecker said at a seminar for diplomats in Vienna, the IAEA’s headquarters, this month.
Citing Western intelligence sources, the Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said in August that North Korea had this year delivered software, originally developed in the United States, that could simulate neutron flows.
Such calculations, which can help scientists identify self-sustaining chain reactions, are vital in the construction of reactors and also in the development of nuclear explosives.
With the help of the programme, Iran could gain important knowledge of how to assemble nuclear weapons, the paper said.
WESTERN INTELLIGENCE HUNT
There has been no public confirmation or denial of the report in the West. But Hecker did not rule it out, saying Pyongyang had demonstrated experience in this field.
He said North Korea must have some “nuclear code capabilities” which they would have been able to assess in comparison with the result of an atomic test.
“So to some extent they have had an opportunity to verify or check their codes,” Hecker said. “Iran has not had a chance to do that. So exchanging that type of information … you could see as being very useful.”
North Korea tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, but still has not shown it has a working nuclear bomb.
Proliferation experts have said the country has enough fissile material for up to 10 nuclear weapons. But they don’t believe Pyongyang is yet capable of…
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