Two German businessmen, a former Russian military officer and North Korea are among those helping Iran develop missiles that the West fears could one day carry nuclear warheads, diplomats and intelligence officials say, the Reuters news agency reports.
Last month German federal prosecutors formally charged two German citizens with espionage for helping a foreign intelligence agency acquire dual-use “delivery system” technology. The prosecutors announced the charge of espionage last week but did not name the country involved.
The two German men have been accused of “having sold a vibration testing facility in 2001 and 2002 on behalf of a foreign military intelligence procurement entity,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement posted on its website. A German official familiar with the case, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the investigation, said the country involved was Iran.
“These missile technology dealers … appear to have been acting alone and were not part of any organized gang,” he said. The state prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe, Germany did not name the men or the German company they worked for.
The involvement of German citizens in what U.S. and European officials believe is Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program will be embarrassing for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has vowed to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.
“You really can’t separate Iran’s nuclear activities from its missile program. The missiles are the delivery system,” an EU diplomat familiar with the case said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and publicly doubted that six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War Two.
Recent U.S. intelligence recovered from a stolen laptop computer suggests that Iranian missile experts are trying to develop a missile re-entry vehicle capable of carrying a relatively small nuclear warhead, EU and U.S. officials say.
Last week the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, voted to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, due to fears that it is developing atomic weapons. Iran says it does not want weapons, only nuclear energy.
With the exception of Russia, China and North Korea, few countries sell Iran weapons or dual-use technology that could be used to make atomic, chemical or biological weapons. To the annoyance of the United States and European Union, Russia has made it clear that it is willing to sell small-scale defensive missiles to Iran. Late last year, Moscow agreed to sell Iran tactical surface-to-air missiles that could be used to shoot down low-flying aircrafts or guided missiles.
However, even Russia says it will not sell medium- and long-range missile technology to the Islamic republic. But a European and a non-European intelligence official told Reuters that Russian middlemen were helping Iran get missile technology from North Korea that could bring central Europe within the range of Iranian missiles.
An EU diplomat, citing his country’s intelligence, said Iran had purchased 18 disassembled BM-25 mobile missiles with a range of around 2,500 km from North Korea. He was confirming a German newspaper report from December that cited Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service.
One of the intelligence officials said a former Russian military officer with the first name Viktor had helped Iran get Soviet-made SSN6 missile technology from Russia and North Korea, which Iran could use to improve the accuracy of its newly-bought BM-25s and increase their range to as much as 3,500 km.
“The Russian authorities either don’t know about him or don’t care,” the official said, adding that there was no evidence that Moscow approved of Viktor’s activities.
Iranian and Russian officials declined to comment.
Iran’s Shahab-3 missiles have a range of some 2,000 km. With a range of 3,500 km, the missiles could reach central Europe.
In December, the United States imposed sanctions on six Chinese, two Indian and one Austrian firm for selling missile or chemical weapons-related supplies to Iran.