Foreseeable, Foreseen, Ignored: Is Iran Advancing Its Missile Program at Home While Offshoring its Nuclear Program to North Korea?

A 1994 exposé published in the Russian language newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda asked, “Will Kim Il-sung Explode Our Atomic Bomb?” Today one might substitute “Iran” for “Russia” given the Islamic Republic’s continuing aspirations in the realms of nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles. These ambitions and signs of an ongoing collaboration with North Korea’s lineal dictator beg a new question: Will Kim Jong-un explode Iran’s atomic bomb?

Evidence of a long-term strategic relationship to transfer nuclear weapon and ballistic missile technology between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran is unmistakable. Indeed, longstanding ties between the North Korean and the Iranian ballistic missile programs are well established. The relationship between their respective nuclear weapons programs is less easily traced through open sources, but strong indicators exist nevertheless. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in April 2015 that North Korea and Iran “could be” cooperating to develop a nuclear weapon. Earlier, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the intelligence community “remain[s] alert to the possibility that North Korea might again export nuclear technology. Other evidence is more anecdotal, relying on unconfirmed reports that Iranian officials witnessed North Korean nuclear and uncorroborated ones of North Korean officials present at suspect Iranian nuclear facilities.

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