EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: This analysis argues that Iran is steadily making progress towards a nuclear weapon and is doing so via North Korea. Iran is unwilling to submit to a years-long freeze of its military nuclear program as stipulated by the July 2015 Vienna Nuclear Deal. North Korea is ready and able to provide a clandestine means of circumventing the deal, which would allow the Iranians to covertly advance that nuclear program. At the same time, Iran is likely assisting in the upgrading of certain North Korean strategic capacities.https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/iran-progressing-nuclear-weapons-via-north-korea/
While the Vienna Nuclear Deal (VND) is focused on preventing (or at least postponing) the development of nuclear weapons (NW) in Iran, its restrictions are looser with regard to related delivery systems (particularly nuclear-capable ballistic missiles) as well as to the transfer of nuclear technology by Iran to other countries. Moreover, almost no limits have been placed on the enhancement of Tehran’s military nuclear program outside Iran. North Korea (NK) arguably constitutes the ideal such location for Iran.
The nuclear and ballistic interfaces between the two countries are long-lasting, unique, and intriguing. The principal difference between the countries is that while NK probably already possesses NW, Iran aspires to acquire them but is subject to the VND. Iran has the ability, however, to contribute significantly to NK’s nuclear program, in terms of both technology (i.e., by upgrading gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment) and finance (and there is an irony in this, as it is thanks to its VND-spurred economic recovery that Iran is able to afford it).
This kind of strategic, military-technological collaboration is more than merely plausible. It is entirely possible, indeed likely, that such a collaboration is already underway.
This presumption assumes that Iran is unwilling to lose years to the freeze on its military nuclear program. It further assumes that NK is ready and able to furnish a route by which Iran can clandestinely circumvent the VND, thus allowing it to make concrete progress on its NW program. And finally, it assumes that the ongoing, rather vague interface between the two countries reflects Iranian advances towards NW. The following components and vectors comprise that interface.
From the 1990s onward, dozens – perhaps hundreds – of NK scientists and technicians apparently worked in Iran in nuclear and ballistic facilities. Ballistic missile field tests were held in Iran, for instance near Qom, where the NK missiles Hwasong-6 (originally the Soviet Scud-C, which is designated in Iran as Shehab-2) and Nodong-1 (designated in Iran as Shehab-3) were tested. Moreover, in the mid-2000s, the Shehab-3 was tentatively adjusted by Kamran Daneshjoo, a top Iranian scientist, to carry a nuclear warhead.
Furthermore, calculations were made that were aimed at miniaturizing a nuclear implosion device in order to fit its dimensions and weight to the specifications of the Shehab-3 re-entry vehicle. These, together with benchmark tests, were conducted in the highly classified facility of Parchin. Even more significantly, Iranian experts were present at Punggye-ri, the NK nuclear test site, when such tests were carried out in the 2000s.
Syria served concurrently as another important platform for Iran – until the destruction by Israel of the plutonium-based nuclear reactor that had been constructed in Syria by NK. According to some reports, not only were the Iranians fully aware of that project in real time, but the project was heavily financed by Tehran. Considering Iranian interests, it was probably intended as a backup for the heavy water plutonium production reactor of Iran’s military nuclear program, and possibly as an alternative to the Iranian uranium enrichment plant in Natanz in the event that it is dismantled.