Trope Deconstruction 101: “Iranian Scientists May Attend N. Korean Nuclear Test”

By | May 02, 2012 | 2 Comments

Trope Deconstruction 101: “Iranian Scientists May Attend N. Korean Nuclear Test”

by Adam Cathcart

At SinoNK.com, we have previously deconstructed the rumors that a.) North Korea conducted a previously unknown nuclear test in May 2010 and that b.) that alleged test was of an Iranian nuclear weapon.  To put it mildly, the former assertion is very much disputed, and the latter assertion is essentially the product of one intelligent man’s imagination in Berlin.

For more background information about how the assertion about an Iranian nuclear test in North Korea made it into a respected German newspaper, see my 25-page Document Dossier on Iran-North Korea Nuclear Connectivity.

German nuclear expert and prime advocate of the “Iranian nuclear test in North Korea” hypothesis Hans Ruehle shares his alarm re: nascent Iranian nukes in the money quote of this April 4, 2012 article | Die Welt, Berlin

Redux |  Why now?  Because the Jerusalem Post, which had essentially gone along with the earlier thesis of the Iranian nuclear test in North Korea, is now asserting that “Iranian Scientists May Attend N. Korean Nuclear Test“:

North Korea will soon carry out a nuclear experiment and Iranian scientists could be present at the explosion site, sources familiar with the issue told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Iranian officials from the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group observed a failed North Korean rocket launch on April 13, according to a report by the South Korean Yonhap news agency.

Although Seoul has neither confirmed nor denied the report, it believes that a delegation of a dozen Iranian scientists may have been technically involved in North Korea’s failed long-range rocket launch, which it said was a satellite launch.

Now, the Islamic Republic may be planning a presence at North Korea’s upcoming third nuclear test as well.

South Korean government sources said on Sunday that North Korea appears to have completed preparations for the test, and would need only to push a button to detonate an atomic bomb.

The test could come as soon as the next couple weeks.

As in the March 2012 case, we have several problematic sources which, when lumped together and unexamined, make the case that Iran is more or less riding herd on the North Korean nuclear program. The Jerusalem Post‘s main source(s) for the claim of Iranian participation in the presumptively forthcoming nuclear tests remain anonymous — but why?

Apart from getting information from someone involved in the actual tests (which would be worthy of a Pulitzer, probably), why does the paper need to protect the identity of anyone opining about North Korea’s nuclear program? Regardless, there is absolutely no way to evaluate the quality of this information, making evaluation of previous claims all the more important.

Yet more vexing, the Yonhap report to which they refer is itself quite explicitly based on another anonymous “diplomatic” source:

Iranian officials observed N. Korea’s rocket launch: source
by Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, April 15 (Yonhap) — A dozen Iranian officials, responsible for the country’s ballistic missile program, visited North Korea last week to observe its latest rocket launch, which ended in failure, a diplomatic source here said Sunday.

“On March 31, 12 Iranians of the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG) arrived in North Korea. The Iranians undoubtedly were there to observe the missile launch and receive test data from North Korea,” the source told Yonhap News Agency, requesting anonymity. South Korean government officials neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, citing a practice of not commenting on intelligence-related matter.

The beauty of this kind of sourcing is that the source for the Yonhap claim on April 15 could, in fact, be the same source for the Jerusalem Post claim on May 2!  Certainly if a diplomat had knowledge of the first incidence, s/he would have an inside track on the second.  But of course there is no way to know.

Chae Thae Bok in Geneva, July 2011 | Image and link via NK Leadership Watch

Considering Other Sources |  If reporters wanted to be more clever, or find some supplementary material for their anonymous sources, one would think they could start reading KCNA, the North Korean state news agency, which on April 30 included an item entitled “Reception Given by Iranian Ambassador” and revealed that some North Korean heavy hitters (including one who had stood up before for Iran’s rights in Geneva) in attendance:

Pyongyang, April 30 (KCNA) — Morteza Moradian, Iranian ambassador to the DPRK, hosted a reception at his embassy on Monday on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of President Kim Il Sung. Present there on invitation were Choe Thae Bok, chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Pak Ui Chun, foreign minister of the DPRK, Jong Yong Su, minister of Labor, Kim Jong Suk, chairwoman of the DPRK Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, and officials concerned….

[In his speech, the Iranian Ambassador said that:] The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to support the Korean people in their struggle to protect the sovereignty of the country and the gains of the revolution and achieve its reunification.

Choe Thae Bok in his speech […] expressed firm support and solidarity for the Iranian government and people in their struggle to resolutely oppose and reject any form of sanctions and moves of military threats and blackmails by the hostile forces and to defend the right to nuclear activities for peaceful purpose.

Does an embassy speech by Choe Thae Bok, one of the “Gang of 7” around Kim Jong Un, which mentions nuclear energy in itself confirm that North Korea and Iran are thick as thieves with upcoming nuclear weaponized cooperation?  Does the fact that the Chinese media picked up on the above account confirm that Beijing is nervous about Iran-DPRK nuclear collaboration?  Hardly.  But at least both data points provides a bit of much-needed texture to these otherwise flimsy, but far from harmless, reports described above.

Certainly this “Iranian nuclear program moving forward in North Korea” trope will be one to watch carefully as May progresses.

Document Dossier on Iran-North Korea Nuclear Connectivity

Further Reading:

Stephan Haggard, “Iran, North Korea, and the Bomb: What We Know, and What We Don’t,” March 9, 2012

Juan Cole, “The N. Korea/Iran Nuclear Connection Fraud,” Informed Comment, March 6, 2012

Joshua Stanton, “Did Iran Test a Nuke in North Korea?” March 9, 2012

2 Comments

  1. I think you are giving the Jerusalem Post too much credit. Their statement that Iranians might watch and learn from the North Korean test was based on ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except wild-eyed circumstantial evidence that might not even be true in itself.

  2. This is interesting, especially since the Iranians already know how to properly launch a satellite into space . So, sure, maybe the Iranians were there to provide some pointers. But, what is Iran getting out of all of this? Test data from the nuclear explosions? Another country that takes some U.S. pressure off of themselves? It seems like Tehran is giving Pyongyang a lot, but for what?

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