German and Japanese intelligence sources Monday, March 5, confirmed – and qualified – to debkafile reports in the German Der Spiegel and Welt am Sonntag that Western intelligence had known for 11 months that at least one of North Korea’s covert nuclear tests in 2010 was carried out on an Iranian radioactive bomb or nuclear warhead.
Those sources report five facts are known for sure:
1. North Korea carried out two covert underground nuclear explosions in mid-April and around May 11 of 2010 equivalent to 50- 200 tonnes of TNT.
2. Two highly lethal heavy hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, typical of a nuclear fission explosion and producing long-term contamination of the atmosphere, were detected and analyzed by Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBOTO) monitoring stations in South Korea, Japan and Russia.
3. The presence of tritium in one of the tests led several intelligence agencies watching North Korea’s nuclear program and its longstanding links with Iran and Syria to examine the possibility that Pyongyang had tested the internal mechanism of a nuclear warhead on Iran’s behalf. This strongly indicated to German and Japanese intelligence that Iran had already developed the nuclear warhead’s outer shell and attained its weaponization.
4. Another possibility examined was that North Korea had tested an Iranian “dirty bomb” – i.e. a conventionally detonated device containing nuclear substances. Tritium would boost its range, force and lethality.
This was one of the conclusions of atmospheric scientist Larsk-Erik De Geer of the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm, who spent a year studying the data collected by various CTBOTO stations tracking the North Korean explosions.
On February 3, De Greer published some of his findings and conclusions in Nature Magazine. His paper will appear in the April/May issue of the Science and Global Security Journal.
5. The Japanese and German sources found confirmation of their suspicions that North Korea had abetted Iran’s nuclear aspirations in three events:
a) Shortly after the April explosion, a large group of Iranian nuclear scientists and technicians arrived in Pyongyang. They apparently came to take part in setting up the second test in May.
b) In late April, Tehran shipped to Pyongyang a large quantity of uranium enriched to 20+ percent – apparently for use in the May test.
c) Straight after the May test, the Central Bank of Iran transferred $55 million to the account of the North Korean Atomic Energy Commission. The size of the sum suggests that it covered the fee to North Korea not just of one but the two tests – the first a pilot and the second, a full-stage test.
It is not by chance that this incriminating disclosure about Iran’s nuclear achievements sees the light Monday, just hours before US Barack Obama receives Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the White house for an argument over an expeditious military action to stop Iran going all the way to a nuclear weapon.
The disclosure invalidates the main point the US President made in his speech Sunday to the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC convention in Washington that there was still time for diplomatic pressure and sanctions to bring Iran’s leaders to a decision to halt their nuclear momentum before military action was called for, whether by the US or Israel.
It now appears that Western intelligence has known about the North Korean tests for Iran for eleven months. Therefore, it is too late for him to try and persuade the Israeli prime minister that there is still time to spare for cutting short a nuclear Iran.
It was announced in Washington Monday that no joint American-Israeli communiqué would be issued at the end of their talks, meaning they will have agreed to disagree: Obama, to stand by his opposition to military action against Iran; Netanyahu, to decide what Israel must do in the interests of its security.
There is no doubt he would have preferred an American initiative for – or partnership in – an operation for curtailing the Iranian nuclear threat. But that is not part of Obama’s policy.