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Iran got missile boost from North Korea: US

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DUBAI (AP): A US intelligence assessment concludes that Iran has received advanced North Korean missiles capable of targeting Western European capitals and giving the Islamic Republic's arsenal a significantly farther reach than previously disclosed.

The suspected shipment -mentioned among the flood of classified State Department memos obtained by the online whistle-blower WikiLeaks- could also give Iran an important boost toward joining the powerful group of nations with intercontinental ballistic missiles, defense experts said Tuesday.

The US suspicions carry still another jolt: reinforcing international fears about the possibility of closer nuclear cooperation in the future between Iran and North Korean engineers, who have already staged atomic tests.

US officials presented the claim in a meeting with top Russian security officials in late 2009 but did not offer conclusive evidence of the transfer of at least 19 so-called BM-25 missiles, according to the confidential February 24 memo posted by WikiLeaks.

It also noted that ``Russia does not think the BM-25 exists'' and questioned why there have been no Iranian tests of the missile, believed to be based on a Russian design that could be fitted with nuclear warheads.

Still, the US-Russia meeting found ample common ground over concerns that North Korea appears to be actively engaged with Iran in exporting weapons systems and possible nuclear expertise. A UN report accusing North Korea of exporting banned nuclear and missile technology to Iran, Syria and Myanmar was sent to the Security Council earlier this month.

``This just confirms a lot of the rumors and reports about the capabilities of the North Koreans and gives more credence to those who support a defense shield against Iran,'' said Theodore Karasik, a regional security expert at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.

Independent defence analysts say the possible acquisition of longer-range missiles fits into Iran's step-by-step claims of being able to reach farther from its borders. A year ago, Iran said it successfully test-fired an upgraded version of its Sajjil-2 missile with a reported range of 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers), putting Israel, US bases in the Gulf and parts of southeastern Europe well within reach.

The range of the BM-25s parent design - the submarine-launched Russian R-27 - is about double: 2,400 miles (4,000 kilometers), the memo said. That covers Western Europe, Moscow and much of Central Asia.

Such a missile could give Iran the ability to carry much larger warheads and give technicians the ability to study and copy advanced propulsion and guidance systems - all key elements if Iran ever seeks to develop a nuclear arms programme as some Western leaders fear. Iran, however, says it only seeks reactors for energy production and medical research.

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