It is likely Iran and North Korea are deepening their cooperation in the development of missile and nuclear capabilities under a new bilateral deal set at the beginning of the month, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Thursday.
The new collaboration agreement signed in Tehran calls for the two nations to "cooperate in research, student exchanges and joint laboratories" for "information technology, engineering, biotechnology, renewable energy, the environment, sustainable development of agriculture, and food technology," according to official information provided to the media.
"It’s likely the tempo of shipments of technology to Iran has increased. We have seen a large number of North Korean scientists visiting Iran," ex-U.S. intelligence official Bruce Bechtol told the Monitor.
North Korea is known to be pursuing a viable nuclear deterrent outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. While Iran is an NPT member and maintains its atomic development program is strictly peaceful, there are widespread worries it is pursuing the technological capabilities necessary for building a bomb.
Pyongyang and Tehran's technological collaboration already stretches back years, but the two countries did not have a formal cooperation arrangement before this month. Both governments are at delicate junctures, with Iran facing Israeli threats of a pre-emptive unilateral strike on its atomic facilities and the new Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea still trying to chart its own path less than a year after taking over following the death of longtime dictator Kim Jong Il.
Of particular importance is a perceived pledge in the new agreement for the North to increase exports of missiles and other weapons to Tehran. In 2009, such sales brought Pyongyang annually between $1.5 billion to $2 billion in badly needed currency and oil, according to ex-Congressional Research Service analyst Larry Niksch.
It is disputed, though, whether the Persian Gulf Nation is exporting uranium enrichment centrifuges and their parts to the Stalinist state. Iran has had a difficult time in its effort to manufacture centrifuges of increasing sophistication. North Korea in late 2010 revealed it had established a uranium refinement plant. However, no international monitors have been permitted to visit the site so there is no detailed information available on how sophisticated its centrifuges are or to what degree, if any, the country is enriching uranium.
"I am afraid of an infusion of technology into North Korea," Korea Institute of National Unification President Kim Tae-woo said in an interview.
Bechtol, though, said he believes Iran would be receiving advanced uranium enrichment technology. "North Korea is the seller, not the buyer." The North "continues to assist Iran in its highly enriched uranium program by providing scientists, centrifuge technology, and even raw materials."