- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

North Korea sent 15 gunboats to Iran last week aboard an Iranian freighter that arrived about the same time that U.S. and Spanish warships temporarily seized a shipment of North Korean Scud missiles, The Washington Times has learned.
The gunboats included several special forces craft called semi-submersibles vessels that move just below the surface of the water.
The 15 gunboats were carried aboard the Iranian freighter Iran Meead that slipped into the port of Bandar Abbas one day before a North Korean freighter was seized and boarded several hundred miles to the south last week. The North Korean ship was found to be carrying 15 Scud missiles and warheads bound for Yemen.
The gunboat delivery, traced by U.S. intelligence, highlights North Korea's role as a major weapons supplier to rogue states.
President Bush has branded both North Korea and Iran part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq.
The gunboats were identified as six Peykaap coastal patrol boats, two Tir gunboats and five Taedong underwater vessels.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was in the Middle East last week, said North Korea is a major exporter of missiles and military technology to dangerous regions. "And they are putting into the hands of many countries technologies and capabilities which have the potential for killing tens and hundreds of thousands of people," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters in Djibouti. "And needless to say, our hope is that that wouldn't be the case."
The Taedong semi-submersibles were further identified as three Taedong-C and two Taedong-B vessels that each carry two, 32-centimeter torpedoes. The small submarines are used in special operations warfare and are a new type of weapon for Iranian naval forces, the officials said.
The ship arrived in Bandar Abbas on Dec. 8.
U.S. intelligence officials believe Iran could use the gunboat and torpedo craft to threaten U.S. ships in the region.
The U.S. military is building up its forces in Southwest Asia in preparation for potential military operations against Iraq.
Iran's naval forces have stepped up submarine patrols near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Iran has three Russian-made Kilo submarines and scores of coastal patrol boats.
Military intelligence officials view the submersibles as a serious worry.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, currently commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, stated in 1998 that the Iranian submarine threat in the Persian Gulf was a "significant concern."
"Submarines are offensive weapons, not defensive ones, and any torpedo capability would obviously give [Iran] the ability to interdict shipping through the Strait of Hormuz," said Adm. Fargo, who at the time was commander of the 5th Fleet based in Bahrain.
Adm. Fargo said the strait, which carries a major portion of the world's oil, is a lifeline that is being watched carefully.
U.S. officials said the delivery last week was the second shipment of North Korean gunboats to Iran this year. In March, North Korea sent another shipment of coastal patrol boats aboard the Iran Meead. Those types of patrol boats were not identified.
The gunboat deliveries are part of a major buildup of naval forces by the Iranian military and come amid reports that Iran is working on nuclear weapons.
The State Department said on Friday that Iran is concealing elements of its nuclear arms program.
A nuclear complex near the town of Natanz involves some buildings that are being constructed underground that U.S. officials say are part of a covert nuclear weapons program.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said commercial satellite photographs of the facility show that Iran's claims that its nuclear program is for electrical power generation are doubtful.
"You can tell that portions of the Natanz nuclear facility, the suspect uranium enrichment plant, ultimately will be underground," Mr. Boucher told reporters. "It appears from the imagery that the service roads, several small structures and perhaps three large structures are being built below ground and some of these are already being covered with earth. Iran clearly intended to harden and bury that facility."
The concealment shows that Iran did not plan to declare the facility to the International Atomic Energy Agency and that it would be used to make fuel for nuclear weapons, he said.
Iranian government and military officials in recent weeks have issued threats to take action against the United States if it attempts to use military force against Iran.

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