Iran-Korea Nuclear Cooperation

Pyongyang has emerged as a critical partner in Tehran’s ‚Axis of Resistance,‘ and officials warn that their joint efforts may extend to weapons of mass destruction.

High-level meetings between North Korean and Iranian officials in recent months are stoking concerns inside the U.S. government about the depth of military ties between the two American adversaries. In September, President Trump ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct a fresh review of any potential bilateral nuclear collaboration. Yet officials in Washington, Asia, and the Middle East who track the relationship indicate that Pyongyang and Tehran have already signaled a commitment to jointly develop their ballistic missile systems and other military/scientific programs.

North Korea has vastly expanded its nuclear and long-range missile capabilities over the past year, developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially target the western United States with nuclear warheads. Over the same period, U.S. intelligence agencies have spotted Iranian defense officials in Pyongyang, raising the specter that they might share dangerous technological advances with each other. „All of these contacts need to be better understood,“ said one senior U.S. official working on the Middle East. „This will be one of our top priorities.“

SUSPICIOUS MEETINGS

In early August, Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s number two political leader and head of its legislature, departed Pyongyang amid great fanfare for an extended visit to Iran. The official reason was to attend the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani, but the length of the visit raised alarm bells in Washington and allied capitals. North Korean state media said the trip lasted four days, but Iranian state media said it was ten, and that Kim was accompanied by a large delegation of other top officials.

Kim had last visited Tehran in 2012 to attend a gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Cold War-era body composed of developing nations that strived to be independent of Washington and the Kremlin. Yet he skipped most of the events associated with that conference, instead focusing on signing a bilateral scientific cooperation agreement with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to U.S. intelligence officials, that pact looked very similar to the one Pyongyang inked with Syria in 2002; five years later, Israeli jets destroyed a building in eastern Syria that the United States and UN believe was a nearly operational North Korean-built nuclear reactor. Notably, one of the Iranian officials who attended the 2012 gathering with Kim was Atomic Energy Organization chief Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, who was sanctioned by Washington and the UN for his alleged role in nuclear weapons development.

Similarly, Kim’s latest trip focused on more than just lending support to Rouhani, according to North Korean and Iranian state media. Kim and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Hui-chol inaugurated their country’s new embassy in Tehran, a symbol of deepening ties between the two governments. They also held a string of bilateral meetings with foreign leaders, many from countries that have been significant buyers of North Korean weapons in recent decades (e.g., Zimbabwe, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Namibia). The Trump administration has been intensifying diplomatic pressure on all these countries to cut their economic and military ties with Pyongyang in response to the regime’s barrage of nuclear and missile tests this year.

Regarding missile development, Iran and North Korea presented a united front against Washington during Kim’s stay. Like Pyongyang, Tehran has moved forward with a string of ballistic missile tests in recent months, despite facing UN Security Council resolutions and condemnation by the Trump administration. After meeting with Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani on August 4, Kim declared, „Iran and North Korea share a mutual enemy [the United States]. We firmly support Iran on its stance that missile development does not need to be authorized by any nation.“

COVERT CONTACTS

The meetings that have gone unreported in state media are even more worrisome for allied governments. In recent years, U.S. and South Korean intelligence services have tracked a steady stream of Iranian and North Korean officials visiting each other in a bid to jointly develop their defense systems. Many of the North Koreans are from defense industries or secretive financial bodies that report directly to dictator Kim Jong-un, including Offices 39 and 99 of the ruling Workers‘ Party of Korea.

Last year, U.S. authorities reported that missile technicians from one of Iran’s most important defense companies, the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, had traveled to North Korea to help develop an eighty-ton rocket booster for ballistic missiles. One of the company’s top officials, Sayyed Javad Musavi, has allegedly worked in tandem with the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. (KOMID), which the United States and UN have sanctioned for being a central player in procuring equipment for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. For example, Shahid Hemmat has illegally shipped valves, electronics, and measuring equipment to KOMID for use in ground testing of space-launch vehicles and liquid-propellant ballistic missiles.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS

North Korea has emerged as a critical partner in the alliance of states, militias, and political movements known as the „Axis of Resistance,“ which Tehran developed to challenge U.S. power in the Middle East. Pyongyang has served as an important supplier of arms and equipment to Iran’s most important Arab ally, Syria’s Assad regime, during the country’s ongoing war. And Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have procured weapons from North Korea in their efforts to topple the internationally recognized government in Yemen, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Moreover, Kim Yong-nam’s August trip appeared to have official support from Russia and China. On his way to Iran, he first flew to Vladivostok on Air Koryo, the North Korean airline that the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in December 2016 for financially aiding the Kim regime and its ballistic missile program. He then flew on to Tehran via Russia’s state carrier, Aeroflot, passing through Chinese airspace.

Going forward, the most pressing question is whether a smoking gun will emerge proving direct nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea. The U.S. government and the International Atomic Energy Agency say they have yet to see such conclusive evidence. But Iranian opposition groups allege that senior regime officials have visited North Korea to observe some of its six nuclear weapons tests. Chief among these officials, they add, is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian general whom the UN has accused of working closely with Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani on secret nuclear weapons research. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials say these accusations cannot be ruled out, so all known contacts between the two regimes need to be scrutinized closely.

Jay Solomon is the Segal Distinguished Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute and author of The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East.

Korea Now Able to Nuke Babylon the Great

Trump, who has vowed to halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday and urged Beijing to rein in its ally North Korea.

The latest missile test was the highest and longest any North Korean missile had flown, landing in the sea near Japan.

It was fired a week after Trump put North Korea back on a U.S. list of countries it says support terrorism, allowing it to impose more sanctions.

North Korea, which conducted its largest nuclear bomb test in September, has tested dozens of ballistic missiles under its leader, Kim Jong Un, in defiance of international sanctions.

North Korea said the new missile reached an altitude of about 4,475 km (2,780 miles) – more than 10 times the height of the International Space Station – and flew 950 km (590 miles) during its 53-minute flight.

“After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power,” according to a statement read by a television presenter.

State media said the missile was launched from a newly developed vehicle and that the warhead could withstand the pressure of re-entering the atmosphere, which if confirmed would be an important technical advance.

Kim personally guided the missile test and said the new launcher was “impeccable”, state media said. He described the new vehicle as a “breakthrough”.

North Korea also described itself as a “responsible nuclear power”, saying its strategic weapons were developed to defend itself from “the U.S. imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”.

Trump said additional major sanctions would now be imposed on North Korea.

“Just spoke to President Xi Jinping of China concerning the provocative actions of North Korea. Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!” Trump wrote on Twitter. He gave no other details about the sanctions.

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the launch.

Many nuclear experts say the North has yet to prove it has mastered all technical hurdles, including the ability to deliver a heavy nuclear warhead reliably atop an ICBM, but it was likely that it soon would.

“We don’t have to like it, but we’re going to have to learn to live with North Korea’s ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons,” said Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies.

For multimedia coverage of North Korea www.reuters.com/north-korea/

‘THREATEN EVERYWHERE’

U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials all agreed the missile, which landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, was likely an ICBM. The test itself did not pose a threat to the United States, its territories or allies, the Pentagon said.

“It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the White House.

“It is a situation that we will handle,” Trump told reporters.

Trump, who was briefed on the missile while it was in flight, said it did not change his administration’s approach to North Korea, which has included new curbs to hurt trade between China and North Korea.

Washington has said repeatedly that all options, including military ones, are on the table in dealing with North Korea while stressing its desire for a peaceful solution.

“Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

Other than enforcing existing U.N. sanctions, “the international community must take additional measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic” traveling to North Korea, Tillerson said in a statement.

China, North Korea’s lone major ally, expressed “grave concern” at the test, while calling for all sides to act cautiously.

U.S. EAST COAST IN RANGE?

The new Hwasong-15, named after the planet Mars, was a more advanced version of an ICBM tested twice in July, North Korea said. It was designed to carry a “super-large heavy warhead”.

Based on its trajectory and distance, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 km (8,100 miles) – more than enough to reach Washington D.C. and the rest of the United States, the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said.

However, it was unclear how heavy a payload the missile was carrying, and it was uncertain if it could carry a large nuclear warhead that far, the nonprofit science advocacy group added.

Minutes after the North fired the missile, South Korea’s military said it conducted a missile-firing test in response.

Moon said the launch had been anticipated. There was no choice but for countries to keep applying pressure, he added.

“The situation could get out of control if North Korea perfects its ICBM technology,” Moon said after a national security council meeting.

“North Korea shouldn’t miscalculate the situation and threaten South Korea with a nuclear weapon, which could elicit a possible pre-emptive strike by the United States.”

The test comes less than three months before South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics at a resort just 80 km (50 miles) from the heavily fortified border with the North.

North Korea has said its weapons programs are a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such intention.

Last week, North Korea denounced Trump’s decision to relist it as a state sponsor of terrorism, calling it a “serious provocation and violent infringement”.

Trump has traded insults and threats with Kim and warned in September that the United States would have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.

Reporting by Christine Kim and Soyoung Kim in Seoul, Linda Sieg, William Mallard, Timothy Kelly in Tokyo, Mark Hosenball, John Walcott, Steve Holland and Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Michael Martina in Beijing; Writing by Yara Bayoumy, David Brunnstrom and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alistair Bell

New York Should Prepare for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

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By Kathryn Miles

For a city that seems to move at the speed of light, being late is never a good thing. That’s true for budget agreements, that’s true for commuter trains, and as it turns out, it’s probably true for earthquakes as well.

We tend to think of seismic activity as a west coast problem. Friday demonstrated all too well what a magnitude 8.2 earthquake can do to Mexico and Central America; many of us remember the World Series quake that rocked the San Francisco area in 1989. But New York, which is actually riddled with faults, has a long history of earthquakes: On average, the region has witnessed a moderate quake (about a 5.0 on the Richter scale) every hundred years. The last one was in 1884. Seismologists say we can expect the next one any day now.

Admittedly, a moderate quake isn’t going to cause Hollywood-level destruction, nor is it going to raze Manhattan. But it is going to do plenty of damage: upwards of $39 billion in losses and over 30 million tons of debris. That rubble, caused largely by crumbled brick and stone buildings, is going to clog already congested roads, making it impossible for first responders and public transportation to move about the city.

It may be equally difficult to travel below ground in some cases. Take the Steinway Tunnel, a 1.3-mile cast-iron tube that runs deep below the East River. The 7 train passes through it every 20 minutes, often packed with commuters or, this time of year, Mets fans. Construction on the tunnel began around the time of the last earthquake, long before seismic codes or even modern engineering practices had been codified. As a result, there are big craters and gaps where the tunnel lining isn’t actually in contact with the earth around it. In the event of a quake, that’s going to cause the tunnel to rattle around. And because the tunnel runs through both the soft mud of the riverbed and the hard bedrock on either side, different segments are going to rattle around at different speeds and frequencies. That’s doubly bad news for cast iron that was never in very good shape to begin with.

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New York is vivisected by faults. Most of them fall into two groups – those running northeast and those running northwest.Mike Guillen

There are more than a dozen tunnels like the Steinway connecting Manhattan to New Jersey and Long Island. They’re all at risk of serious damage in the event of a quake. Just how much of a risk we can’t say, because little has been done to evaluate their seismic soundness. Vince Tirolo, a longtime engineer for the transit authority who now serves as a private consultant and adjunct professor at Columbia University, has been sounding the alarm about these tunnels for years. He says he hasn’t received much of a response from the city. As research for my book, “Quakeland,” I contacted the MTA to ask for an interview with the person handling their emergency management and seismic assessment. I wanted to know why more wasn’t being done to fix these beleaguered tunnels or to assess their risk in the event of an earthquake. They told me they couldn’t accommodate my request. I asked why. Nine months later, I’m still waiting for a response.That doesn’t look good, particularly following the summer of hell, a season marked by delays, derailments and the revelation that both the MTA and the Port Authority have redirected monies towards ski resorts and ferry tickets, rather than shoring up tunnel infrastructure.

It’s doubly concerning given that those faults that crisscross Manhattan are not the only ones capable of seismic activity. Geologists now believe that the Ramapo Fault, which spans 185 miles from the Hudson Highlands through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, may be capable of a much stronger earthquake — maybe even one as strong as a 7.0.

That kind of quake could easily do more damage to the city proper than 9/11 or Superstorm Sandy. And given the fault’s proximity to Indian Point Energy Center, Entergy’s beleaguered nuclear power plant in Westchester County, crumpled brownstones and inactive subway tunnels may be the least of our concerns.

A few years ago, the United States Geological Survey conducted a seismic-risk assessment of all nuclear power plants. Excluding a few plants on the West Coast, Indian Point was deemed the plant with the greatest risk of core damage as a result of seismic activity, a dubious distinction for sure. After the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission required all US plants to undergo an extensive seismic evaluation, with an eye towards instituting additional safeguards and retrofits. Entergy was to submit their evaluation of Indian Point this year. Not only have they failed to do so, but they have also made a formal request of NRC that this requirement be waived altogether, citing the closure of the plant in 2021 as justification for this waiver.

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Mike Guillen

Just how well the plant would perform in an earthquake remains a subject of debate amongst scientists and engineers. Klaus Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, thinks even a 5.0 quake would raise safety concerns at the plant. A 7.0, he says, could easily do damage to the domes containing the reactors. Meanwhile, the siting of a large natural-gas pipeline near the plant has raised concerns with some nuclear insiders, who predict an explosion could create a Fukushima-like event there. Gas pipelines aren’t held to the same seismic standards as power plants, and they aren’t required to survive a seismic event. They also come with some of the same vulnerabilities seen in tunnels like the Steinway. Were this pipeline to rupture in an earthquake, it could cause a meltdown easily capable of billions of dollars of damage and the evacuation of millions of people.We don’t have to be left with these doomsday scenarios. While earthquakes will also remain the most powerful and least understood natural disasters, investing in infrastructure and emergency plans can make their eventuality a lot less costly, both in terms of human life and the national economy. For that to happen, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio will need to find a way to set aside their differences and agree on a funding package that shores up New York’s most vulnerable tubes and tunnels. The state will need to take a hard look at the real risk of pipelines like the one to be completed near Indian Point. And Congress, now back from its summer recess, will need to find a way to pass a budget that includes real investment in our national infrastructure.

These are matters that can’t wait. New York’s next earthquake may be late, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be pulling into the station soon.

NYC FAULT FACTS

Kathryn Miles is the author of “Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake” (Penguin), out now.

Map: Merguerian, Charles, 2015b, Review of New York City bedrock with a focus on brittle structures; p. 17-67 in Herman, G. C. and Macaoay Ferguson, S., eds., Geological Association of New Jersey Guidebook, Neotectonics of the New York Recess, 32nd Annual Conference and Field Trip, Lafayette College, Easton, PA, 214 p.

World War 3 will NOT be with North Korea

 

One of the top stories of 2017 is the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear missile power. This was not a great surprise. North Korea has sought a nuclear weapon since at least the 1980s, and its program has been pretty serious since the early 1990s. Nevertheless, it always seemed that considerable hurdles—technical, logistical, financial, intellectual—stood in the way.

Now it appears North Korea can launch a missile all the way to North America, and President Donald Trump has elevated the issue to one of his chief priorities. He has used tough language against the North Koreans, at some points appearing to threaten a massive, possibly nuclear, strike. This has created much alarmism and paranoia that war is imminent. But there is little empirical indication that this is so. I live in South Korea, and while there is much rumor, there has been no new stationing here of major U.S. assets. The military aircraft units necessary for an airstrike are not moving in. The armada Trump threatened in the spring still has not arrived. Leaves of U.S. soldiers are not being canceled. Noncombatants are not being evacuated. In short, a glaring gap has opened between the reality in South Korea and Trump’s warlike rhetoric.

At some point, the Western media will catch on and begin to report despite the Trumpian bombast, war is unlikely. Indeed, the president recently passed up his best chance to lay the public opinion groundwork for a strike in a speech to the parliament of South Korea. South Korean cooperation, if not open support, is vital for any such strike. Many of the necessary military assets are there, and South Koreans would bear the brunt of any Northern retaliation. Yet Trump did not use the opportunity to lobby for war or even a limited airstrike. Instead, he promoted the decades-old U.S. effort to contain, deter, isolate and sanction the North. If Trump isn’t bothering to sell an attack to the South, then the likelihood, no matter what he says on Twitter, is that he will not strike.

11_28_nukes_01 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, on September 16. Washington has adapted to threats in the past, when the risk of action was outweighed by the possible consequences of a military strike. It must do so again. Reuters

The reason, after all the noise about how we cannot tolerate a nuclear North Korea, is that we can. For many years, the United States has put up with three other countries whom we deeply distrust—Russia, China and Pakistan—having nuclear weapons. Only once, in Cuba in 1962, did we consider blocking a nuclear expansion with military force. The result was the terrifying Cuban Missile Crisis. And while the U.S. arguably won that standoff, it so unnerved U.S. decision-makers, as well as the rest of the planet, that it never repeated the exercise. When China developed nuclear missiles in the 1960s and ’70s, we did not interfere, even though China was going through the tumult of the Cultural Revolution. Similarly, when Pakistan nuclearized in the 1990s, the U.S. did not intervene, even though Pakistan had, and still has, serious Islamic fundamentalism problems.

In each instance, a state in deep ideological opposition to the U.S.—Stalinist, Maoist and Islamic fundamentalist—acquired nuclear weapons and set off an anxious discussion in the U.S. about “fanatics” with the world’s worst weapons. Yet the alternatives were even worse. Airstrikes on China would have set the whole of East Asia ablaze; dropping Special Forces into Pakistan to hijack its weapons—an idea briefly considered—would have been a near-suicide mission; striking the “Islamic bomb” might have sparked a regional Muslim revolt. In all cases, U.S. officials found the risks of action outweighed by the risks of trying to manage the new status quo. In time, Washington adapted.

This is almost certainly what will happen with North Korea. Once again, “fanatics” have acquired the bomb, and nightmare scenarios of a nuclear war abound. Yet there is little indication that the North Koreans seek these weapons for offensive purposes. Striking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon would clearly lead to the North’s rapid destruction. The Northern elite are not suicidal. Instead, it appears that they wish to survive. Indeed, they have pointed out that if Saddam Hussein or Muammar el-Qaddafi had had nuclear weapons, they would be alive today.

11_28_nukes_03 Anti-Trump protesters hold up signs in front of police officers near the South Korean National Assembly where U.S. President Donald Trump was due to speak, in Seoul, South Korea, on November 8. Reuters

There are strike options, but the possible consequences, including a Sino-U.S. war and the regional use of nuclear weapons, are so dire that we have always demurred. The North has taken major provocative actions at least six times since 1968, and we have never struck back. The reasons then are the same as they are today: North Korea could devastate Seoul with conventional artillery in retaliation; North Korea has a defensive treaty with China; the North would immediately respond to any U.S. airstrike with human shields; North Korea has been tunneling in preparation for war for decades, requiring a U.S. air campaign so large it would effectively be a war—there is realistically no surgical strike option; now that North Korea has nuclear weapons, it could respond to U.S. action by using those weapons.

In brief, the risks associated with a U.S. strike on North Korea are high and have just gotten higher with the North’s progress on nuclear missiles. Just as we grudgingly learned to live with Soviet, Chinese and Pakistani nuclearization, I predict we will learn the same with North Korea—even if our leaders will not admit it publicly for some time.

Robert Kelly is a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea.