NEW evidence of nuclear co-operation between North Korea and Iran is becoming a top American concern.
It has emerged that Iranian missile experts were in Pyongyang last month to attend a military parade at which new intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads more than 3000km were put on display.
That came before the revelation North Korea had built a hitherto undetected centrifuge plant to enrich uranium that bears a striking resemblance to Iran’s centrifuge plant at Natanz.
North Korea already has a stockpile of plutonium sufficient to make between four and eight crude nuclear weapons. The start-up of a uranium fuel cycle will give it alternative bomb material for its own arsenal or for sale.
“It’s a protection racket,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst based in Seoul. “Their message is: we can make a lot of trouble, so it’s much cheaper to pay us off.”
Siegfried Hecker, former head of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in the US, said the risk of North Korea exporting weapons material was “more troubling” than the country’s own possession of nuclear bombs.
“What we saw, 2000 centrifuges, that’s about twice what Iran has done so far,” Professor Hecker said in his report of his latest visit to the Yongbyon nuclear site. “I worry about co-operation with Iran.”
He urged Washington to set three red lines for the North Koreans: no new bombs, no bigger bombs and no export of nuclear material.
“A military attack is out of the question. Tightening sanctions is likewise a dead end. The only hope appears to be engagement,” he said.
However, the deepening ties between Tehran and Pyongyang make it likely that Kim Jong-il will extract a high price. “The nuclear power and missile research institutes in the North and Iran are effectively one body,” a defecting North Korean official told Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo. “North Korean nuclear and missile scientists are in Iran and Iranian scientists are in the North. They