Wednesday 11 December 2019

North Korea tried to buy nuclear tech via Berlin embassy

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. AP Photo/Michael Sohn
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Justin Huggler in Berlin

North Korea secretly tried to obtain the technology for its nuclear weapons programme via its embassy in Berlin, according to disclosures from German intelligence.

The embassy repeatedly attempted to buy equipment that could be used for ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany's secret service.

"We discovered procurement activities taking place there, which we believe were focused on the missile programme, and also to some extent on the nuclear programme," he said.

The head of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, or Office for the Protection of the Constitution, added: "When we detect something of this sort, we take steps to prevent it, but we can't guarantee that we are able to detect and prevent every case."

He made the disclosures in an interview for German television to be aired in full today. In extracts released in advance, Mr Maassen described how the North Korean embassy had bought "dual use" technology that could be deployed for civilian or military purposes.

He did not specify what material the embassy was attempting to buy for its nuclear or missile programmes. But in a separate incident in 2014, a North Korean diplomat is believed to have tried to obtain a multi-gas monitor that could be used to develop chemical weapons.

Along with the UK, Germany is one of a handful of European countries to maintain some diplomatic ties with North Korea. But Germany withdrew several diplomats from its embassy in Pyongyang in the wake of last year's missile tests, and has demanded North Korea reduce its diplomatic staff in Berlin.

The German Foreign Ministry last year denied reports it was coming under US pressure to close its embassy. A spokesman added: "But that doesn't mean we're ruling it out."

Berlin's slightly less frosty relations with Pyongyang than most Western governments date to the Cold War, when communist East Germany viewed North Korea as an ally.

Angela Merkel's government hoped it could exploit that shared past to serve as a bridge with the regime of Kim Jong-un. But little has materialised, and the latest disclosures are unlikely to raise expectations. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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