U.S.: Imminent war with Iraq spurs Iran's WMD efforts

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Iran has increased efforts to obtain technological assistance from China and North Korea for its missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, the United States has concluded.

U.S. officials said the threat of imminent war with Iraq has spurred Teheran's efforts to complete its missile and WMD projects to deter future threats from Washington. The officials said Iran is focusing on completing facilities that could produce weapons-grade plutonium.

U.S. officials said Iran has obtained significant missile and WMD assistance from China and North Korea over the last five years, Middle East Newsline reported. The officials said North Korea is believed to have helped Iran with two new nuclear facilities reported on late last year. They are a heavy-water plant and a centrifuge facility in central Iran.

"The Iranians are very active in seeking assistance from North Korea and China," Undersecretary of State John Bolton said. "Although the current focus is on Iraq, and to a lesser extent on North Korea, Iran remains a very serious problem, one that we're committed to addressing, and that we are trying to address by preventing the Iranian government from acquiring these capabilities in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and long-range missiles."

Bolton said in an interview to the CNBC network that Iran plays a leading role in the Bush administration's agenda. The undersecretary said he has spent many hours with Russian officials in an attempt to stop Moscow's aid to Teheran's missile and WMD programs.

Bolton did not cite U.S. efforts to persuade China and North Korea to halt the supply of missile and WMD technology to Teheran. He said much of the efforts have taken place in the framework of multilateral export-control regimes.

Officials said China and North Korea have helped Iran build an infrastructure for the development and production of the intermediate-range Shihab-3 missile as well as a cruise missile. They said Iran has offered the Shihab-3 to Libya.

"Iran has only very rudimentary countermeasure capabilities, and continued Chinese and Russian assistance will be needed in this area," Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said. "This may explain why Iran is currently buying missiles in such large numbers -- for the foreseeable future, saturation may be the only reliable Iranian countermeasure to sophisticated enemy missile defenses."

Eisenstadt said China is helping Iran develop several models of cruise missiles. They include an extended-range variant of the Chinese Silkworm missile.

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