North Koreans help Iran with nuclear test
25th January 2007, 7:30 WST

North Korea is helping Iran to prepare an underground nuclear test similar to the one Pyongyang carried out last year, according to a senior European defence official.

Under the terms of a new understanding between the two countries, the North Koreans have agreed to share all the data and information they received from their successful test in October with Tehran’s nuclear scientists.

North Korea provoked an international outcry when it successfully set off a bomb at a secret underground location and Western intelligence officials are convinced that Iran is working on its own weapons program.

A senior European defence official said that North Korea had invited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of the underground test in October to assist Tehran’s preparations to conduct its own — possibly by the end of this year.

There were unconfirmed reports at the time of the Korean test that an Iranian team was present. Iranian military advisers regularly visit North Korea to take part in missile tests.

Now the long-standing military co-operation between the countries has been extended to nuclear issues.

As a result, senior Western military officials are deeply concerned that the North Koreans’ technical superiority will allow the Iranians to accelerate development of their own nuclear weapon.

“The Iranians are working closely with the North Koreans to study the results of last year’s North Korean nuclear bomb test,” the European defence official said.

“We have identified increased activity at all of Iran’s nuclear facilities since the turn of the year.

“All the indications are that the Iranians are working hard to prepare for their own underground nuclear test.”

News of the collaboration emerged as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a defiant message to the US, saying Washington could not hurt Tehran by waging what he called a “psychological war”.

“They are not in a position to hurt us, they do not have the power to do so, their pressure is mostly psychological,” he said in a televised speech. “They think that they can intimidate and dismay the Iranian people in order to break the Iranian people’s unity.”

North Korea and Iran were named in US President George Bush’s famous “axis of evil” State of the Union speech in 2002.

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously authorised the imposition of “smart” sanctions against Iran. This is because of its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program, which most Western intelligence agencies believe is part of a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Intelligence estimates vary about how long it could take Tehran to produce a nuclear warhead. But defence officials monitoring the growing co-operation between North Korea and Iran believe the Iranians could be in a position to test-fire a low-grade device — less than half a kiloton — within 12 months.

The precise location of the Iranian test site is not known but is likely to be in a mountainous region where it is difficult for spy satellites to pick up unusual activity.

Iran successfully concealed the existence of several key nuclear sites — including the Natanz uranium enrichment complex — until their locations were disclosed by Iranian dissidents three years ago.