Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
North Korea Supplied Powerful Missiles to Iran, Cables Reveal
Classified U.S. intelligence reports have determined that North Korea supplied Iran with a stockpile of sophisticated missiles that would extend the Middle Eastern state's strike capabilities in ways the United States had previously not disclosed, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, March 8).
U.S. intelligence officials strongly believe that Tehran acquired from the North 19 missiles that were developed from Russian blueprints. The missiles could enable Iran to launch attacks on cities in Western Europe or Moscow -- something it had not previously been able to do, according to a February 24 classified diplomatic cable that detailed a conversation between senior Russian officials and a visiting group of U.S. State Department officials. The cable and over 250,000 others were made available by the transparency advocacy group WikiLeaks to a handful of news organizations that began reporting their findings yesterday.
Going back four years, there have been intermittent reports that North Korea could have exported to Iran missiles based off the Russian-developed R-27, which was at one time fitted with nuclear warheads and deployed on Soviet submarines.
U.S. spy officials believe Tehran is going to lengths to perfect its mastery over the new missiles so it can use them to develop advanced missiles of its own, according to the February cable.
"Iran wanted engines capable of using more-energetic fuels and buying a batch of BM-25 missiles gives Iran a set it can work on for reverse engineering," the cable reads.
Pyongyang used the R-27 missile to build its own BM-25 missile, which could be fitted with a nuclear weapon. Multiple specialists contend that Iran still remains far behind the North in developing the ability to wield a nuclear weapon compact enough to be fielded on a missile.
Missile experts say the BM-25 has a longer length and is weightier than the R-27. It can travel farther than the Russian missile as well -- as far as 2,000 miles (New York Times, Nov. 28).
A separate diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks revealed that in 2007, Washington requested that China move to block North Korea from exporting ballistic missile components to Iran through its capital city, the Washington Post reported. The cable pointed to Washington's growing frustration with Beijing's apparent disinterest in stopping such commerce.
The November 3, 2007, cable from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a North Korean shipment of missile jet vanes was scheduled to depart from Beijing on November 4 on an Iran Air aircraft and fly to Iran.
"The (State) department is seeking both immediate action ... and a strategic approach with regards to this critical issue," the cable reads. "We now have information that the goods will be shipped on 4 November and insist on a substantive response from China. ... We assess that the best way to prevent these shipments in the future is for Chinese authorities to take action ... that will make the Beijing airport a less hospitable transfer point."
It is not known if the Chinese government took action to block the export deal from going forward (John Pomfret, Washington Post, Nov. 29).
Rice's cable asserted that a minimum of 10 other shipments of a similar nature had been permitted to go forward over U.S. objections, the Wall Street Journal reported.
A February cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated that Washington continues to be worried about Iran receiving missile technology from China. The cable directed U.S. diplomats to call on Beijing to move on intelligence that Tehran was attempting to purchase Russian-made gyroscopes from a Chinese firm. The technology can aid in the stabilization and targeting accuracy of ballistic missiles.
Another cable from that month said Tehran was attempting to procure the same gyroscope model from China through a Malaysian intermediary. A third cable asserted Iran was trying to acquire five tons of carbon fiber from a Chinese firm. The dual-use material could be utilized to build casing and nozzles for missiles (Jeremy Page, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 29).
A different cable from 2010 pointed to U.S. worries that Chinese companies were selling the North materials that could be used to build chemical munitions, the Post reported (see GSN, Oct. 13).
In a May cable, Clinton said the Obama administration was worried that shipments from Chinese companies "could be used for or diverted to a CW program" (Pomfret, Washington Post).
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