IRAN may have been secretly helping North Korea rapidly advance its nuclear weapons program, it has emerged.
The UK Foreign Office is investigating whether the secretive state has received help in developing this technology.
UK media site The Telegraph reported the British Government is looking at whether “current and former nuclear states” have been assisting Pyongyang in its nuclear ambitions. Iran is at the top of the suspects list.
North Korea claimed it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb ready to be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on September 3.
This has led many to speculate North Korea has had help from at least one other country.
A Whitehall source told The Telegraph there is no way North Korean scientists could have got to this point by themselves.
“North Korean scientists are people of some ability, but clearly they’re not doing it entirely in a vacuum,” a government minister said.
International Security expert and Intelligence Studies and director of ANU’s Southeast Asia Institute Professor John Blaxland told news.com.au it was possible Iran has been helping Pyongyang.
“There have been stories circulating of Iranian technical support over a number of years and while this story is not easy to corroborate, it is certainly plausible,” he said.
Nuclear disarmament campaigner John Hallam said there were a few countries, including Iran, which could be among those helping North Korea.
“There has been collaboration over missile technology, but not to my knowledge over weapons design, for decades,” he said.
Much of Iran’s missile technology has been, or once was, North Korean.
Mr Hallam said he believed the collaboration between North Korea and Pakistan deserved more attention.
“Iran wouldn’t have much to offer the DPRK in terms of weapons design, but Pakistan would have had a great deal to offer, at least in terms of miniaturised uranium warheads, which form the mainstay of Pakistan’s nuclear forces,” he said.
Mr Hallam also said if Iran really wanted to obtain nuclear weapons it would have managed to do so 15-20 years ago.
“So Iran would certainly have nothing to offer the DPRK in terms of hydrogen bomb technology,” he said.
“They might have had something to offer in terms of enrichment over the years and they might have been helpful in jointly developing missile technology.”
Mr Hallam said it was also possible that Russia could be helping the DPRK.
“They certainly have arguably the world’s best or second best nuclear weapons and missile technology, and they may have been somewhat helpful, but I really doubt that Russia will have slipped them a third generation thermonuclear warhead design,” he said.
“Of course they may have somehow obtained such a design, but they could have done so from any country that had such designs — including the US itself.”
In an interview with news.com.au last week, Australian National University researcher and North Korean expert Leonid Petrov said it was clear North Korea’s scientists were getting help from somewhere.
Dr Petrov said other countries likely to have assisted include Pakistan, Russia and even Ukraine.
News that Iran may be fuelling North Korea’s nuclear ambitions comes as Israel’s minister for intelligence and strategic affairs Yisrael Katz warned Terhan’s own nuclear ambitions must be stopped.
Mr Katz said failed attempts to negotiate with Pyongyang should serve as a lesson in dealing with Iran.
“Iran is the new North Korea,” he said.
“We need to act now so we won’t be sorry tomorrow about what we didn’t do yesterday.”
Meanwhile North Korea is set to pay the price for its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously stepped up sanctions against Pyongyang, imposing a ban on the country’s textile exports and capping imports of crude oil.
It was the ninth sanctions resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-member council since 2006 over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
The US watered down an initial tougher draft resolution to win the support of Pyongyang’s main two allies, China and Russia.
Pyongyang warned it will make the United States pay a heavy price if the tough sanctions went ahead.
The North’s Foreign Ministry said it was watching the US closely and threatened it was “ready and willing” to respond with measures of its own.
Last Tuesday, Washington circulated a draft resolution proposing the toughest UN sanctions on North Korea, including a ban on all oil and natural gas exports to the country and a freeze on all foreign financial assets of the government and its leader, Kim Jong-un.
Previous UN sanctions resolutions have been negotiated between the US and China, and have taken weeks or months, however the Trump administration demanded a vote in just six days.