Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Iran keeps pace with North Korea, plans a second, bigger satellite launch

DEBKAfile Special Report
April 14, 2009

As North Korea reactivated its nuclear weapons facilities in defiance of UN resolutions, Tuesday, April 14, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinjad announced plans to send a second satellite into space, this one on a rocket with a range of 1,500 km.

The launch of its first home-made satellite Omid in February, ostensibly for "peaceful telecommunications," demonstrated Tehran's acquisition of long-range ballistic technology usable for delivering nuclear warheads. Addressing students, Ahmadinejad said that the next satellite would be bigger than Omid and have a longer range.

Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said North Korea was expelling its inspectors and reactivating all its nuclear facilities in retaliation for the unanimous UN Security Council's unanimous condemnation Monday of its long-range Taepodong 2 missile launch last week. Pyongyang also announced its withdrawal from the six-power talks on its nuclear program. The White House again called on North Korea to cease "its provocative threats."

Adopting a more lenient stance, the Obama administration and European powers were disclosed by DEBKAfile last week as considering dropping their longstanding demand for Tehran to shut down uranium enrichment as a pre-condition for negotiations on its nuclear program.

Clearly, both North Korea and Iran are moving ahead on parallel courses with their military nuclear programs, impervious to Western condemnation (of North Korea) or concessions (to Tehran) for the sake of diplomatic engagement.

Their courses undoubtedly intersect. Of late, several Western intelligence organizations are investigating whether a ship that travelled from North Korea to Iran last December had several dozen tons of enriched uranium hidden in its cargo. Some intelligence officials suspect an effort to hide traces of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) program to develop nuclear weapons, which the US believes North Korea is secretly pursuing.

If confirmed, North Korea's transfer of the materials to Iran would only add to rising proliferation concerns stirred by the country's long-range missile launch last week.

Iran is conducting low-level enrichment for use in nuclear power plants under the surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "The bulk of the (transferred) materials appears to be medium-level enriched uranium," the source said. "It could be further enriched to weapons grade in Iranian facilities."
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