Iran-N. Korea co­op­er­a­tion on nukes feared CIA mon­i­tors amid sus­pi­cion of pos­si­ble rogue state al­liance

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH AND GUY TAY­LOR

The Iran nu­clear deal is silent on an is­sue that the CIA and pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­perts are con­cerned about: that Tehran may out­source parts of its nu­clear and mis­siles pro­gram to the se­cre­tive regime in North Korea, which on Tues­day com­mit­ted it­self to pro­duc­ing more fuel for nu­clear bombs.

CIA Di­rec­tor John Bren­nan ac­knowl­edged Tues­day his agency is mon­i­tor­ing whether Iran may try to as­sist its clan­des­tine nu­clear pro­gram with help from another rogue state such as North Korea, or by col­lud­ing with Py­ongyang to­ward the se­cret pur­chase and trans­fer of nu­clear weapons for Tehran.

“We have to make sure that we’re do­ing what­ever we can to un­cover any­thing,” Mr. Bren­nan told a group of re­porters in Austin, Texas. “I’m not say­ing that some­thing is afoot at all — what I’m say­ing is that we need to be at­tuned to all of the po­ten­tial path­ways to ac­quir­ing dif­fer­ent types of [weapons of mass de­struc­tion] ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

Ex­perts say the deal worked out by Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry car­ries no known pro­hi­bi­tion against North Korea per­form­ing Iran’s nu­clear arms re­search, paid out of the $100 bil­lion to $150 bil­lion the deal frees up in Ira­nian as­sets.

“Kerry and crew left a loop­hole a mile wide when they ef­fec­tively al­lowed Iran to con­duct all the il­licit work it wants out­side of Iran, in coun­tries like North Korea or per­haps Su­dan,” Michael Ru­bin, an an­a­lyst at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, told The Washington Times.

While there is heated de­bate over the ex­tent of col­lu­sion be­tween Iran and North Korea, ev­i­dence of col­lab­o­ra­tion has piled up for years in public source in­for­ma­tion even as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity re­main mum about such re­ports.

Larry Niksch, a scholar at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, has been track­ing the Iran-North Korea nexus for decades.

“There ap­pears to be lit­tle in the Iran nu­clear agree­ment that would pre­vent Iran from con­tin­u­ing or in­creas­ing its per­son­nel and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments in North Korea’s fu­ture mis­sile and nu­clear war­head pro­grams,” Mr. Niksch told a House For­eign Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee in July. “It seems to me that North Korea may re­ceive from Iran up­wards of $2 [bil­lion] to $3 bil­lion an­nu­ally from Iran for the var­i­ous forms of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween them.”

At the same hear­ing, Jim Walsh, an as­so­ciate with the Se­cu­rity Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, dis­puted claims that the col­lab­o­ra­tion in­cludes a nu­clear el­e­ment.

“Peo­ple who be­lieve there has been nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion rely al­most ex­clu­sively on media ac­counts. I re­viewed some 76 media re­ports cov­er­ing a span of 11 years. None of the 76 re­ports has been con­firmed -- none,” said Mr. Walsh at the time. “On the other side of the ledger, the DNI, the IAEA, the U.N. Panel of Ex­perts for Iran, and the U.N. Panel of Ex­perts for North Korea, de­spite nu­mer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties to do so has never claimed Ira­nian-North Korean nu­clear co­or­di­na­tion.”

On Tues­day, Mr. Bren­nan pushed aside ques­tions about the le­git­i­macy of news re­ports al­leg­ing that deep nu­clear and mis­sile co­op­er­a­tion al­ready ex­ists be­tween Iran and North Korea, but stressed CIA of­fi­cials are “not go­ing to as­sume that’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

Nonethe­less, he said he stands be­hind the nu­clear deal and has “a lot of con­fi­dence” that the ac­cord is struc­tured in such a way that will make it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for Iran to cheat.

Mr. Bren­nan’s re­marks on the Iran nu­clear deal come just days af­ter Mr. Clap­per re­vealed that U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials “are field­ing some in­de­pen­dent ca­pa­bil­i­ties that will en­able us … to have good in­sight into [Iran’s] nu­clear in­dus­trial en­ter­prise” as the ac­cord goes into ef­fect over the com­ing months.

Speak­ing at an in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity con­fer­ence in Washington last week, Mr. Clap­per said he sup­ports the nu­clear deal de­spite bit­ing crit­i­cism from Repub­li­cans that it lacks safe­guards to en­sure that Ira­nian of­fi­cials won’t cheat and de­velop nu­clear weapons right un­der the nose of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the U.N. nu­clear watchdog tasked with mon­i­tor­ing Tehran’s com­pli­ance with the ac­cord.

Mr. Clap­per told the con­fer­ence that he’s “pretty con­fi­dent” U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials will be able to ver­ify “from our own sources” the ac­cu­racy of fu­ture IAEA assess­ments of whether or not Iran is com­ply­ing with the terms of the ac­cord.

North Korea, which an­nounced Tues­day it has restarted its plu­to­nium-pro­duc­ing nu­clear re­ac­tor, al­ready owns nu­clear weapons and, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. com­man­der, has mas­tered the art of mak­ing a minia­tur­ized war­head that could fit on its Nodong medium-range mis­sile ca­pa­ble of hit­ting its neigh­bors.

Although the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­mains silent on the is­sue of pos­si­ble col­lab­o­ra­tion, there are reams of U.S. and for­eign press re­ports de­tail­ing such co­op­er­a­tion, gen­er­ally in the form of North Korea send­ing sci­en­tists and tech­nol­ogy to Iran and Ira­ni­ans vis­it­ing North Korea to view its pro­gram first­hand.

“There’s a grow­ing ev­i­dence that Iran and North Korea have not only been co­op­er­at­ing on mis­sile pro­grams but also in the nu­clear field,” said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Repub­li­can. “[In] media re­ports as far back as 1993, there are in­di­ca­tions that the Ira­ni­ans fi­nanced North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram with $500 mil­lion in re­turn for nu­clear tech­nol­ogy.”

Mr. Niksch tes­ti­fied that the Na­tional Coun­cil of Re­sis­tance of Iran, the largest op­po­si­tion group to the hard-line Is­lamic state, re­ported that a del­e­ga­tion of North Korean mis­sile and nuke ex­perts vis­ited Iran last May, the third such tour this year.

“Ira­nian money ap­pears to be the lu­bri­cant for North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams,” he said. “The Iran nu­clear agree­ment will in­crease Iran’s wealth con­sid­er­ably as U.N. eco­nomic sanc­tions are lifted and Iran re­ceives at least $50 bil­lion from the United States in frozen as­sets.”

Ilan Ber­man, vice pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can For­eign Pol­icy Coun­cil, called the Iran-North Korea col­lab­o­ra­tion “vi­brant.”

“It’s on­go­ing, and there is cred­i­ble ev­i­dence to sug­gest that co­op­er­a­tion on these fronts has helped to ma­te­ri­ally en­hance not only the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram, but also the so­phis­ti­ca­tion and the knowhow of the North Korean ef­fort as well,” he told the sub­com­mit­tee.

Of the po­ten­tial $150 bil­lion in freed as­sets, he said, “That sum equates to roughly a quar­ter of Iran’s an­nual gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, which last year was $415 bil­lion. It also matches or ex­ceeds the en­tire post-World War II re­con­struc­tion plan for Europe. That was mar­shaled by the Tru­man ad­min­is­tra­tion. That ef­fort was launched in 1948 and fa­cil­i­tated the dis­burse­ment of $13 bil­lion, which is equiv­a­lent to $120 bil­lion in to­day’s cur­rency to 17 sep­a­rate coun­tries in South­ern and Eastern Europe over the course of four years.”

North Korea sig­naled on Tues­day it plans to re­sume a ro­bust nu­clear pro­gram as the state news agency said its pri­mary plu­to­nium re­ac­tor had been restarted af­ter an 8-year hia­tus.

The As­so­ci­ated Press in Py­ongyang quoted the news agency as say­ing plu­to­nium and highly en­riched ura­nium fa­cil­i­ties at its main Ny­ong­byon nu­clear com­plex have fi­nally been “re­ar­ranged, changed or read­justed and they started nor­mal op­er­a­tion.”

The AP quoted state media as say­ing sci­en­tists had im­proved “the lev­els of nu­clear weapons with var­i­ous mis­sions in qual­ity and quan­tity.”

A top U.S. com­man­der has said pub­licly that North Korea ap­pears to have de­signed small nu­clear war­heads suit­able for a bal­lis­tic mis­sile. The fear among ex­perts is that this ex­per­tise will be shared with Iran, mean­ing Tehran will con­tinue to make in­roads to­ward build­ing a bomb even un­der the U.S. nu­clear deal.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States will not ac­cept the North as a nu­clear state.

“That’s why we urge North Korea to re­frain from ac­tions and rhetoric that threaten re­gional peace and se­cu­rity and fo­cus in­stead on ful­fill­ing its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions and com­mit­ments,” Mr. Earnest said. “We will work with our part­ners in the con­text of the six-party talks to try to re­turn North Korea to a pos­ture of ful­fill­ing those com­mit­ments that they have made.”

The six-party talks re­sulted in a 2007 agree­ment for the North to close the plu­to­nium re­ac­tor. But the deal fell apart when North Korea tested an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile and kicked out in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors in re­sponse to United Na­tions con­dem­na­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A visi­tor walks by a dis­play il­lus­trat­ing the dam­age a nu­clear weapon would cause if det­o­nated in Seoul at the War Me­mo­rial of Korea. A day af­ter threat­en­ing long-range rocket launches, North Korea de­clared Tues­day that it has restarted all its atomic fuel plants so it can pro­duce more weapons.

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