Iran 'seeks missile deal' with N Korea: US concerned at report of nuclear arms offered in exchange for oil

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE United States government expressed deep alarm yesterday about reports that Iran is on the verge of an agreement to buy new and more potent intermediate-range missiles from North Korea, capable of carrying chemical, and possibly nuclear, warheads in return for increased shipments of Iranian oil.

Asked about the report, carried in the New York Times, the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said that, if true, Washington would view the development with 'considerable concern'. The missile, the Nodong 1, has a range of 600 miles, enabling Iran to hit targets in Israel.

US intelligence is convinced North Korea is closer than ever to developing the Nodong missile. In congressional testimony this month, the CIA director, James Woolsey, predicted that the spread of a new generation of missiles both in the Middle East and East Asia was 'not too far away'.

His remarks fit into a crescendo of US warnings over the intentions of both Tehran and Pyongyang. The two regimes are bottom of the popularity list of Washington policy-makers: North Korea because of its evident determination to build nuclear weapons; Iran because of its suspected role as prime mover behind the Islamic fundamentalism which, in American eyes, has replaced Communism as the chief ideological menace around the planet.

That supposed danger has been brought close to home for Americans by February's explosion at the World Trade Center in New York, with unsubstantiated rumours that Iran was behind the Arab fundamentalists charged with responsibility for the bombing, seen as part of a worldwide terror campaign masterminded by Tehran.

The failure of both the Bush and Clinton adminsitrations to bring the two countries to heel has only increased frustrations here. Despite intense pressure, North Korea continues to block United Nations inspection of its atomic facilities. Efforts to win over Iran have been equally fruitless. 'Nothing the outside world can do will influence them,' a Pentagon official was quoted as saying by the Times. 'These guys are on a mission.'

According to US sources, the high- level Iranian delegation now in North Korea wants to buy up to 150 of the new missiles as part of its military build-up since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. North Korea, these sources say, calculates the Iran oil would enable it to thwart any sanctions the UN might impose to punish Pyongyang for refusing to submit its nuclear industry to inspection.