UK fears Iran’s hand in NKorea bomb

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Ben Ri­ley-Smith

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.”

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