Iran looks to Norks for plutonium

Times:

THE drab compound that houses the Iranian embassy in Pyongyang is the focus of intense scrutiny by diplomats and intelligence services who believe that North Korea is negotiating to sell the Iranians plutonium from its newly enlarged stockpile — a sale that would hand Tehran a rapid route to the atomic bomb.

It would confound the international campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions by restricting its ability to make bombs through the alternative method of enriching uranium.

The risk is viewed with such gravity in Washington that the United States has launched a concerted diplomatic and covert effort to prevent it, according to diplomats based in Pyongyang and Beijing.

The belief that Iran and North Korea are talking about plutonium stems from a recently reported offer of oil and gas from Tehran in exchange for nuclear technology.

The discovery by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2004 that North Korea had sold an estimated 1.7 tons of uranium to Libya established a precedent for the sale and showed how hard it is to stop, diplomats say.

The Americans were aghast to learn last year that while engaging in disarmament talks, North Korea had made enough plutonium to amass a stockpile of about 43 kilograms, perhaps as much as 53kg. For the first time since the nuclear crisis began in 1994 it has sufficient fissile material to sell some to its ally while retaining enough for its own purposes.

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The US State Department revealed last summer that 11 shipments of nuclear materials bound for North Korea and Iran had been intercepted under the proliferation security initiative, in which 60 nations including Britain co-operate in air and sea searches. It refused to disclose any details.

Alarm bells sounded again in Washington late last autumn after nuclear disarmament talks in China ground to an inconclusive and ill-tempered halt. Christopher Hill, the American negotiator, came out of a meeting to tell colleagues that “those f***ers say they’re going to go right ahead and build nuclear weapons no matter what we do”, according to an official who overheard the remark.

In November western intelligence sources told Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, of a clandestine visit to Pyongyang by an unnamed high-ranking Iranian official who offered North Korea a huge amount of oil and natural gas in exchange for help on nuclear research and missiles.

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There is more in very revealing story.

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