Thursday, January 18, 2007

What's Wrong With This Story?

This brief AP dispatch from Seoul describes the arrival of a "high-level" Iranian delegation in North Korea, based on a brief announcement from Pyongyang's state-controlled media.

The wire service goes on to note that both Iran and North Korea are part of President Bush's infamous "axis of evil," and the two countries are under pressure to give up their nuclear (weapons) programs.

But then, the AP offers this little tidbit, apparently designed to discourage the notion that the WMD efforts of Tehran and Pyongyang might somehow be linked:

"North Korea is believed to have sold missiles to Iran. Although North Korea's publicly acknowledged nuclear weapons program uses plutonium, Iran's is based on uranium."

Believed to have sold missiles? Iran's short-range SCUDs are direct copies of North Korean models, and Tehran's acquisition of missile technology from Pyongyang dates back to the early 1990s. More recently, the Iranians used North Korea's No Dong medium-range missile system as the blueprint for their own Shahab-3. Without extensive engineering and technical support from Pyongyang, the Shahab-3 wouldn't even exist on the drawing boards. And, if that isn't enough, Israeli intelligence recently reported that North Korea has sold BM-25 intermediate range missiles to Iran, giving the mullahs the ability to strike targets as far away as southeastern Europe. But that mountain of evidence isn't enough for the Associated Press; according to their reporting, they "believe" there might be some sort of missile connection between the two countries, but they're not quite sure.

The nuclear comparison is also a red herring. True, current Iranian nuclear research is focused on producing a bomb using enriched uranium, but the AP ignores other salient facts, namely that Tehran has its own heavy-water reactor (located near Arak) that will eventually yield plutonium. That gives Iran another option for producing nuclear weapons, following the path used by North Korea's (slightly) more advanced program.

Is there a smoking gun that definitely links the nuclear programs of Tehran and Pyongyang? Not officially, but there a body of circumstantial evidence, outlined in this 2003 article from Time. Beyond that, there have been credible reports of Iranian and Syrian scientists at North Korean research facilities, and indications that officials from those countries have attended Pyongyang's recent weapons demonstrations.

The arrival of a high-level Iranian delegation--with barely a mention from the Korean Central News Agency--suggests that something else might be afoot, potentially another missile launch or a nuclear test. But you wouldn't know that by reading the AP story.

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