- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2000

North Korea recently sold Iran a dozen medium-range ballistic missile engines, indicating the Pyongyang government has not curbed its transfers of missile know-how and equipment.

According to a Pentagon intelligence report, North Korea supplied the 12 engines to an Iranian government agency involved in missile production in November.

The engines arrived in Iran on Nov. 21 after they were spotted being loaded aboard an Iran Air Boeing 747 cargo jet that left Sunan International Airfield, about 12 miles north of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, said U.S. officials familiar with the classified report.

U.S. intelligence officials said the missile engines are the same as those used in Nodong medium-range missiles, which have a range of about 620 miles.

The Iranians used Nodong engines in the first stage of the new Shahab-3 missile that was flight tested for the first time in July 1998. That missile has an estimated range of up to 930 miles.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon declined to comment on the transfer citing a policy of not discussing intelligence matters.

The general issue of weapons proliferation, however, is "of great concern to us" and officials have been trying to talk to the North Koreans about their missile trade.

"We obviously worry about proliferation by anybody and North Korea is one of those that we are particularly worried about," he said.

The missile engine transfer comes amid continuing diplomacy by the Clinton administration aimed at trying to halt North Korea's missile proliferation. Two rounds of U.S.-North Korean talks in Berlin made little progress on the issue, officials said.

The intelligence on the missile engine transfer also coincides with other recent Pentagon reports showing that China is continuing to sell missile technology to North Korea despite promises from Chinese leaders to halt the exchanges.

The Pentagon also reported in November that North Korea was continuing with preparations for a test of its newest and longest-range missile, the Taepo Dong 2.

The communist North Korean government announced a moratorium on missile tests during talks with U.S. officials. However, Pyongyang recently threatened to resume the missile tests after the Pentagon conducted its national missile defense test.

Iran also is working on a longer-range version known as Shahab-4 with an estimated range of up to 1,240 miles. That missile could use two booster stages equipped with the Nodong engines, or a single Nodong engine on top of a more powerful Russian-design motor, according to U.S. officials.

The missile transfer has raised new questions about a recent decision by the Clinton administration to waive U.S. economic embargo provisions against Iran and allow Boeing Co. to sell engine parts to Iran for its fleet of 747 passenger jets.

State Department officials have said the export license for the 747 engine parts was approved in November shortly before the engine sale with restrictions limiting the repairs to passenger versions of Iran Air 747s and not its fleet of 747 cargo jets. The license was approved by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Some within the administration opposed the Boeing parts sale because of fears the Iranians will use the jets for missile transfers. One U.S. national security official said he doubts the controls will prevent the Boeing parts from being diverted for military use.

The installation work on the Iranian jetliners will be carried out by technicians from the German airline Lufthansa without U.S. personnel watching, the official said. Also, there is nothing to prevent the Iranians from using the upgraded passenger jets as cargo planes in the future, the official said.

"It would be very easy to rip the seats out and use them to ferry missiles and parts," the official said.

Henry Sokolski, a Pentagon arms proliferation specialist during the Bush administration, said the North Korean engine sale also raises questions of Chinese government complicity in the engine deal.

The Iranian airliner probably had to fly over or through China, a course that would have required approval by Beijing, he said.

China several years ago denied overflight rights to an aircraft shipment of weapons from Kazakhstan to the Middle East after the U.S. government asked Beijing to block the flight, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

On the parts waiver to Boeing, Mr. Sokolski said: "This is the same kind of hairsplitting that has gotten previous administrations in trouble with exports to Iran and Iraq."

"Dealing with high technology to Iran is bad business," Mr. Sokolski said. "It can come back to bite you. Undoubtedly, if you engage in this practice there will be more of these kind of transfers in the future."

The CIA in the past has identified Russia and China as major suppliers to Iran's missile program, which includes developing a long-range Shahab-5 that will be able to reach the United States.

The engine sale is new evidence that North Korea also has become a major supplier for Tehran's missile effort.

The CIA's annual report to Congress on the spread of missiles and nuclear, chemical and biological arms stated that during the first half of 1999 "entities in Russia and China continued to supply a considerable amount and a wide variety of ballistic missile-related goods and technology to Iran."

Officials said the report did not include the intelligence from November on the engine transfer from North Korea.

"Exports of ballistic missiles and related technology are one of the North's major sources of hard currency," the CIA said, noting that North Korea has exported missile-related goods to the Middle East and Africa last year.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment, and a State Department official had no immediate comment.

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