The U.S. urgently sent its Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth to Seoul after North Korea unveiled a huge facility for uranium enrichment. A senior South Korean government official said Monday the rapid response came because the facility "highly likely" indicates a nuclear connection between the North and Iran.
According to South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies, the facility the North Koreans showed to nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker "appear similar in design to those used at Natanz, the Iranian nuclear fuel production site," the New York Times said Sunday.
Iran has been developing a nuclear program using uranium enrichment since the mid-1980s. It has massive uranium enrichment facilities with centrifuges in Natanz and Qom.
In August, it began operating a nuclear power plant using enriched uranium as fuel.
Robert Carlin, a researcher at Stanford University who visited the North alongside Hecker, was quoted by VOA on Sunday as saying, "The North likely got help with the new facility from Pakistan or Iran."
A former senior North Korean official who defected to South Korea, said, "The nuclear power and missile research institutes in the North and Iran are effectively one body. North Korean nuclear and missile scientists are in Iran and Iranian scientists are working in the North. They share everything."
It seems likely that Iran has transferred its advanced uranium enrichment technology to the North, while Pyongyang has handed advanced missile technology to Tehran, he speculated.
In March, Leonard Spector, the deputy director of the Monterey Institute of International Studies' James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said in a column on the center's website North Korea delivered 45 tons of unenriched uranium concentrate known as "yellowcake" to Syria and subsequently moved the material to Iran via Turkey. A North Korea-Iran nuclear connection could gravely undermine international nonproliferation efforts, he added.
Iran's Shahab-3 and the North's Rodong seem to be the same missile model, while the Shahab-5 and Taepodong-2 also are the same. The North built a nuclear facility which is similar in design to the 5 MW nuclear reactor at Yongbyon for Syria, a close ally of Iran's. An Israeli air raid reportedly wiped out the facility in September 2007.