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March 10, 2017 2:38 pm

Proliferation Expert: Trump Administration Should Keep Close Eye on Potential Iran-North Korea Nuclear Cooperation

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North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Twitter

North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Twitter

Paying attention to any potential nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea should be a priority for the Trump administration, a proliferation expert told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

“I think the main thing is to try to discover it,” David Albright — head of the Institute for Science and International Security think tank — said. “We know it [cooperation] happens in the missile and conventional weapons areas. As for the nuclear area, we look at it as an open question. We haven’t seen enough evidence yet to make an actual accusation, we just don’t know. But I think there is a real risk that Iran and North Korea could cooperate on nuclear matters. It requires a lot of attention from our intelligence services.”

“If it turns out such cooperation does exist, an argument could be made that it’s a violation of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” Albright went on to say. “Whether it in fact is or not, lawyers would have to decide. It would depend on the exact type of cooperation. But the bottom line is you have to develop more resources to try to figure if it’s going on. And a revelation that it is going on would be quite damaging to Iran.”

There are two types of know-how Iran and North Korea could share, Albright said. The first, he noted is “more traditional information about building nuclear weapons and testing nuclear weapons, which North Korea certainly has plenty of to give to Iran.” And the second is “reentry vehicle technology for a nuclear warhead.”

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“Iran is freer to conduct reentry vehicle tests than North Korea,” Albright explained. “So both could benefit. It would look like missile cooperation, which is more tolerated, but in fact it could end up being a way to help both countries be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile.”

In a recently published paper, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies analysts Refael Ofek and Dany Shoham claimed that Iran was “steadily making progress towards a nuclear weapon” with help from North Korea.

The Pyongyang regime, they wrote, was “ready and able” to give the Islamic Republic a “clandestine means of circumventing” the July 2015 nuclear deal it agreed to with six world powers.

“At the same time,” they added, “Iran is likely assisting in the upgrading of certain North Korean strategic capacities.”

Anthony Ruggiero — a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank — noted in a policy brief on Wednesday, “What happens in North Korea rarely stays there, and Pyongyang has likely proliferated nuclear technology in secret to at least two countries: Syria and Libya. Likewise, a North Korea-Iran nuclear relationship would be difficult to detect. And while North Korea will not sell complete nuclear weapons or fissile material for nuclear weapons — as these are critical to the regime’s survival — it will sell other parts of its program, as well as its expertise.”

“Perhaps most disconcerting, there are no international mechanisms to detect scientific activity inside North Korea,” he continued. “The hermit kingdom controls information flow, especially on its strategic programs, and IAEA inspectors are not permitted access to its nuclear program.”

“For over 20 years, the US has failed to counter North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile threat. Pyongyang-Tehran nuclear cooperation would be cause for even greater alarm,” Ruggiero concluded.

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