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Wednesday, December 8, 2010     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. intelligence estimate on Iran rocked by news of North Korean facility

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WASHINGTON — North Korea's new centrifuge plant calls into question the U.S. assessment of Iran's nuclear program, a report said.


The Washington Institute for Near East Policy said North Korea's gas centrifuge facility could bolster the nuclear capabilities of Pyongyang's allies in the Middle East. The institute said the Yongbyon complex, reported to have produced up to 10 nuclear bombs, could relay technology and expertise to Iran.

"The existence of the new Yongbyon centrifuge plant, which theoretically could give North Korea the capacity to make highly enriched uranium, an alternative nuclear explosive, places in doubt current assessments of Iran's centrifuge capabilities," the report, titled "Centrifuges in North Korea Force a Recalculation of Iran's Nuclear Progress," said.

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Author Simon Henderson cited a Nov. 12 tour of Yongbyon by U.S. professor Siegfried Hecker as sparking the need for a U.S. intelligence reassessment of Iran's nuclear program. North Korea has been deemed a leading ally of Teheran, particularly in the area of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

In the Nov. 22 report, the institute said Iran has managed to enrich uranium to just below 20 percent with the "technically unreliable" P-1 centrifuge. Henderson said from this level, Iran could easily reach the 93 percent enrichment required to produce an atomic bomb.

"If Iran has access to more-advanced technology, it could produce HEU [highly-enriched uranium] more quickly and in larger quantities than previously believed," the report said. "For its part, North Korea is seen to have no scruples about transferring nuclear technology."

Henderson, a director at the institute, also raised the prospect that North Korea could be contracted to enrich uranium for Iran. Another scenario was that North Korea could supply P-2 centrifuge technology to Iran.

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