- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On Monday, the Pentagon for the first time went public in describing missile cooperation between Iran and North Korea and how these rogue states are working to target American interests worldwide. In doing so, the administration may be setting the stage for a fight with Democrats on the question of building a missile defense system to protect the United States from attack — a target of severe criticism from Democrats and arms-control advocates ever since President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative more than 20 years ago.

However, on Monday a senior Pentagon official made a powerful implicit case that obstructionism on missile defense could leave the United States vulnerable to attack from the Tehran-Pyongyang axis. Both Iran and North Korea are collaborating in the development of long-range missiles, Army Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said in a speech to the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington. Iran is working on a space launcher that would help develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the United States, Gen. O’Reilly said. “They are working in concert with the North Koreans,” he added, noting that Iranian officials have stated they “are working towards developing a space launch capability, which also would give them an ICBM capability.”

The Iranians are “likely to develop an ICBM/SLV [space launch vehicle],” a Missile Defense Agency briefing slide said. The agency added that Tehran “could have an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. before 2015.” As for the North Koreans, their Taepodong-2 missile has two versions: a two-stage missile with a range of 6,200 miles and a three-stage version that can travel 9,300 miles. Although during a July 4 test, the Taepodong-2 failed 40 seconds after launch, Pyongyang is working to expand its ballistic missile capability, Gen. O’Reilly said.

Meanwhile, Aviation Week & Space Technology reports in its current issue that Iran has just finished converting another of its ballistic missiles into a satellite vehicle. If a shorter-range warhead is used, a missile fired from central Iran could reach Saudi Arabia, Israel, the entire Persian Gulf region and southern Turkey. A more ominous scenario would involve space-launch-related upgrades that “could eventually create an Iranian ICBM with a range of nearly 2,500 miles that could reach as far west as Central Europe and well into Russia … China and India.” In January, the German magazine Bild reported that Iran purchased 18 BM-25 land-mobile missile from North Korea. The BM-25 is a variation of the SS-N-6, a Soviet-made submarine launched ballistic missile with a range of up to 1,800 miles.” According to Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel’s Arrow anti-missile program, the BM-25 “is a nuclear missile… There is no other warhead for this other than a nuclear warhead.”

The good news, as Gen. O’Reilly outlined Monday, is that the United States has a ballistic missile defense system in place that is capable of preventing attacks from such missiles on the American homeland, and stationing interceptors capable of protecting areas such as Europe, the Middle East and Southwest Asia from attack. Neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both of whom have been hostile to such programs, has spoken publicly about Gen. O’Reilly’s presentation. But we hope they will not stand in the way of the Missile Defense Agency’s critical work.

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