UK fears Iran’s hand in NKorea bomb
NORTH KOREA’S sudden advancement in developing nuclear weapons may be due to secret support from Iran, British officials fear.
The Foreign Office is investigating whether “current and former nuclear states” helped Kim Jong-un in his drive to mount nuclear warheads on to missiles.
Senior Whitehall sources have told The Sunday Telegraph it is not credible that North Korean scientists alone brought about the technological advances.
Iran is top of the list of countries suspected of providing assistance, while Russia is also in the spotlight.
The fear is that outside influences have provided North Korea with either equipment or expertise that has moved it closer to becoming a nuclear nation.
“North Korean scientists are people of some ability, but clearly they’re not doing it entirely in a vacuum,” said one Government minister.
Another source helping shape policy said: “For them to have done this entirely on their own stretches the bounds of credulity.”
The hope is that identifying any link could open new diplomatic avenues for exerting pressure on the regime, which has refused to change course despite economic sanctions.
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, hinted at his department’s concerns last week as he took questions from MPs about the crisis. “There is currently an investi- gation into exactly how the country has managed to make this leap in technological ability,” Mr Johnson said.
“We are looking at the possible role that may have been played, inadvertently or otherwise, by some current and former nuclear states.”
Mr Johnson declined to name which states he had in mind.
The US will tomorrow seek approval from the UN Security Council for a ban on exporting oil to North Korea, according to a leaked draft resolution. The US also wants a ban on textile exports from the country as well as an asset freeze and travel ban on Kim.
However, it is unclear if China – which supplies roughly 500,000 tons of crude oil to North Korea annually – or Russia will support the move. A veto from either would kill the resolution. Last month the regime sent a missile over Japan, while this week an explosion at a testing site measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, 10 times more powerful than the tremor from its previous test.
At the start of the year, it was estimated that North Korea would need a decade before it could launch intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, government sources said. That has now been reduced to just a handful of years.
Britain’s most senior Cabinet ministers were briefed on the “fast forward” in the country’s nuclear capabilities at a National Security Council meeting this year.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, also talked to President Donald Trump about North Korea just days after he said “all options” remained on the table. The pair agreed to use “all the leverage they had” to stop Kim from developing nuclear weapons and “agreed on the key role China has to play”, according to an official briefing.
Government sources said there are “hawkish” elements in the US administration who believe there is an argument for military intervention. They argue that the “window of opportunity” for action is narrowing and may be closed if left until the end of Mr Trump’s presidency.
Despite the crisis being one of the most intractable in geopolitics, there is hope in some quarters of the Foreign Office that the drive for nuclear weapons is for a domestic audience. A senior Whitehall source said: “Kim is trying to emerge from the shadow of his father and grandfather. He sees developing this independent nuclear deterrent… as being his big legacy.
“One of the misnomers is that Kim is a madman. He’s not a madman at all, he’s a rational operator. The rationale is: We’ll become a nuclear nation… and gain respect.”