By Roland Watson
November 13, 2008

Zee News India recently reported that at the request of the United States a North Korean cargo plane was denied permission to fly through Indian airspace to get to Iran. This incident, which occurred on August 7th, was also covered in a Wall Street Journal article in the edition of November 1-2nd. According to the Journal, the U.S. request was “part of the Bush Administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to block the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Any action under the initiative would be ordered only if the plane was suspected of carrying nuclear materials, long-range missile components or other potentially lethal cargo.”

The only cargo possibility that was mentioned, by either Zee News or the Journal, was missile components. We believe it is naïve to suggest that cooperation between Iran and North Korea is limited to this extent. More likely, there is nuclear cooperation as well, which the intelligence community has either been unable to document, or which, for whatever reasons, it wants to keep secret.

The last scenario is the most likely, since North Korea was caught helping Syria build a nuclear reactor, which facility Israel destroyed. It would be surprising if the same type of cooperation with Iran – assistance with its program to develop nuclear weapons – were not underway. (Impoverished North Korea is an aggressive arms merchant.) Also, it seems clear that the U.S. has an effective intelligence capability, directed at the North, since it was able to identify this particular flight.

The Journal article was notable for what it didn't mention: the role of Burma in the developing nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation nexus between North Korea and Iran. The flight had proceeded from Pyongyang to Mandalay, from where its departure to Iran was blocked. It would also be naïve to think that this was simply a refueling stop. The flight repeats a pattern of naval shipments from Pyongyang, which were unloaded under top secrecy at Rangoon Thilawa Port at night, and which ships we understand in at least one case then proceeded onward to Iran.

Dictator Watch has previously reported, based on information from our own sources, that Burma is pursuing a nuclear development program with atomic weapons as the ultimate objective. The principal partner in this program is Russia, which has agreed to supply a 10 MW reactor, and which is now being constructed. This is a repeat of the proliferation that the Soviet Union orchestrated with North Korea in the 1970s and 80s, and North Korean technicians are reportedly involved in the Burmese project, if not directing its on-ground activities.

China played an important role in Burma’s proliferation. In May 2001, former Foreign Minister Win Aung together with General Maung Aye spoke to Burmese State Scholars who were to study in Russia. Win Aung said: “China wants us to work with Russia on a nuclear program and to try to develop nuclear weapons in the future.”

Cooperation between Burma and Russia soured in 2006, because the Burmese scholars were not dedicated to their education and the military junta, the SPDC, failed to pay the program’s costs. At that time, and even though cooperation with Russia subsequently was resumed, Burma approached North Korea and Iran for assistance with its nuclear initiative.

Burma further has short-range ballistic missiles, acquired from North Korea. We believe these are Scud variant missiles, not the more sophisticated devices that have been tested by the North within the last year.

Burma also has commercial uranium deposits, which the regime itself has admitted. Our sources inform us that uranium mining and milling is in progress, and that the end product, yellowcake, has been sold to both North Korea and Iran. Regarding the former, the most contentious disarmament issue for the United States has been the extent of the North's uranium enrichment program, and such program's decommissioning. Similarly, there is great concern about Iran's enrichment program. We believe Burma is supplying both programs with the raw material, and further that it has its own enrichment effort (with centrifuge facilities near Kyauk Kyi village in Tha Beik Kyin township, and Naung Hlaing village in Pyin Oo Lwin township).

Section Ten of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008 requires the Secretary of State to prepare a report, not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of the Act (July 29) on military and intelligence aid to Burma. This includes “the provision of weapons of mass destruction and related materials, capabilities, and technology, including nuclear, chemical, or dual-use capabilities.

The report is therefore due by the end of January, and it is to be submitted to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate. It will have unclassified and classified forms, the first of which will be placed on the Department of State's website.

This past summer, the resistance forces in Eastern Burma intercepted Burma Army communications that unmanned drones had been spotted in the Toungoo area of the country (near the junta's capital, Napyidaw), on three separate occasions, and which the Army unsuccessfully tried to shoot down. It seems clear that there is a significant effort to ascertain fully the extent of Burma's proliferation programs, in part to prepare for the Secretary's report. We are fully supportive of this effort, and hope that the Obama Administration will use its results to press for a proper examination of Burma and the risk the SPDC poses to international security and peace.

For the last eight years, the Burma pro-democracy movement has looked to President Bush for assistance. However, other than some comforting words, he did nothing. Congress initiated all the substantive freedom and democracy initiatives for Burma.

Now we have a new administration. President-elect Obama, at his first news conference, said of Iran, its “development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable… We have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.”

We believe it is essential that he extend this policy to Burma, in the first instance by personally disclosing the results of U.S. intelligence. The SPDC has an active nuclear program – there have been high level visits with North Korea and China in the last two weeks. The full extent of what is known about this program must be revealed.

The President-elect also said, in his second debate with Senator McCain, that he would provide logistical support for the peacekeeping forces in Darfur, Sudan, including by setting up a no-fly zone. We would ask the new President to take similar action with respect to Burma, by imposing a naval and air blockade of all arms shipments to the SPDC. This would leave only the land border with China as a transit point for military materiel.

The big question for Barack Obama is if he can live up to his words, if he can fulfill the hope that he offers. To do this, he must confront a world that is complex, challenging, and dangerous. He is now in the major leagues, and to be successful, and for the world to improve, he must effectively manage such issues as Iran, North Korea, Burma, and Sudan. To do this, though, he will have to be strong and decisive with the backers of these regimes, and through which backing such problems have proved to be intractable. He will have to stand up to Russia and China, and find some way to get them to relent.