Japan Suspects Iran-N.Korea Missile Link-Report

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan is worried that technology for a long-range cruise missile that can carry nuclear warheads may have been leaked to North Korea from Iran, a Japanese daily said on Sunday.

At issue is technology used in cruise missiles known as Kh-55s that Ukraine exported to Iran in 2001 under former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the Sankei Shimbun daily said, quoting Japanese government and ruling party sources.

A TU-160 Launching a KH-55 Cruise Missile

"They are linked by a network beneath the surface regarding the development of weapons of mass destruction," Sankei quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying about Iran and North Korea.

The possible leak of technology was conveyed to Japan by a U.S. intelligence agency, said Sankei, a conservative daily.

Developed in the late 1970s in the former Soviet Union, the Kh-55s have a range of 3,000 km (1,864 miles), long enough to hit any part of Japan if deployed by North Korea, Sankei said.

The Financial Times said in March that Ukraine had acknowledged exporting 12 such cruise missiles to Iran and six to China in 2001 without any nuclear warheads.

Japan has made inquiries with Ukraine and has expressed concern to Iran about the possible leak of missile technology and urged it not to hand over such missiles to North Korea, Sankei said. The only reply from the Ukrainian and Iranian governments so far has been that the issue is being investigated by Ukrainian authorities, the newspaper said.

Japan has grown increasingly concerned about the nuclear and missile programs of North Korea, which declared in February that it possesses nuclear weapons.

Worries increased after North Korea shocked the world in 1998 by firing a ballistic missile across Japan, prompting Japan's decision in December 2003 to buy a U.S.-made missile defense system. It is expected to be partially deployed from 2007.

Such missile defense systems, however, are aimed at thwarting ballistic missiles and are not designed with low-flying cruise missiles in mind, Sankei said.

Source: Reuters