The two countries whose nuclear programs have raised alarms of late may be cooperating more closely than previously known. North Korea agreed six years ago to stop flight-testing longer-range ballistic missiles, which could deliver nuclear or chemical warheads, in exchange for relief from U.S. economic sanctions. Pyongyang still claims it is sticking to the deal, but some Administration officials think it may be cheating by using Iran as its proxy.
Iran's new Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile is closely based on North Korea's Nodong missile. After Iran test-fired the Shahab-3 last summer, there have been indications, a top U.S. official says, that Tehran is giving North Korea telemetry and other data from its missile tests and that North Korea is using the data to make improvements in its own missile systems. In exchange, the official says, Pyongyang may be supplying Iran with engineering suggestions for further testing.
Even before the missile firings in August, Under Secretary of State John Bolton had told Congress that Iran's Shahab-3, which has a range of about 800 miles, is "a direct threat to Israel, Turkey [and] U.S. forces in the region." If its research and development program goes unchecked, Bolton warned, Iran could soon have missiles capable of delivering payloads to Western Europe and the U.S. And if that isn't scary enough, CIA director Porter Goss said in congressional testimony last week that North Korea's new, untested Taepo Dong-2 missile "is capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload."
The implications of a North Korea--Iran deal to share and test these missiles are grim. Equally ominous, Goss said, intelligence shows that North Korea is seeking to raise hard currency by peddling its missile technology to new clients beyond Iran. To blunt that effort, U.S. officials say, the CIA and other U.S. agencies are redoubling their efforts to track and intercept North Korean shipments and covert communications about advanced missile technologies. --By Elaine Shannon