Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea’s claim to have tested a nuclear weapon, specious or not, can only heighten concern that the regime might try to transfer nuclear weapons technology to a terrorist group or a rogue regime like Iran, which is attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Given North Korea’s extensive history of providing missile technology and weaponry to a wide array of serial proliferators and rogue states — including Iran, Syria, Libya, Libya and Pakistan — it is clear that the communist government, desperate for foreign exchange to prop up a collapsing economy, has little reluctance to sell destabilizing military items to anyone who can afford them.

Iran’s relationship with North Korea is particularly close. The two governments have a military relationship dating back to the late 1980s, and according to the State Department, one or more Iranian officials were present in July when North Korea conducted flight tests of seven missiles including the long-range Taepodong-2. Iran has played a major role in financing North Korean missile production efforts. The Wisconsin Project on nuclear arms control reports that during the late 1980s, North Korea sold Scud-type missiles and Scud production technology to Iran. In the mid-1990s there were reports that Iranian scientists and technicians had enjoyed direct access to missile plants in North Korea. Just prior to the first test of Iran’s Nodong missile in May 1993, the director of Iran’s Defense Industries Organization visited North Korea. The following year, the commander of North Korea’s air force led a delegation to Iran that included military and nuclear experts.

Since that time, the relationship between the two nations’ military establishments has flourished, and there have been a spate of reports on the missile trade between the two sides. In August 2004, the Associated Press reported that North Korea was using Iran as a test site for new nuclear-capable missiles. In December 2004, the U.S. government imposed trade sanctions on Changgwang Sinyong Corp. — the fifth time since 2000 that the North Korean missile exporter had been caught violating the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which bars foreign companies from making missile-related sales to Iran.

Intelligence reports from several years ago indicated that North Korea was engaged in a covert effort to develop a uranium-based nuclear program in collaboration with Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani scientist whose network supplied centrifuges and information on nuclear weapons designs to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Chinese-language documents on building a nuclear warhead for missiles were found in Libya, supplied by associates of the Khan proliferation network. U.S. officials believe that Iran and North Korea received similar warhead design documents.

Giving these technology transfer reports a measure of added menace are North Korea’s prior threats to “transfer” its nuclear weapons to other parties. It made these threats in April 2003 during trilateral talks in Beijing and repeated them four months later during the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Raising the specter of blackmail, in December 2003, Pyongyang offered to refrain from transferring nuclear weapons in exchange for unspecified rewards.

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