February 8, 2006

Germans, Russian aid Iran arms program: officials

By Louis Charbonneau

BERLIN (Reuters) - 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.

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 Web site.

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 it is developing atomic

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 aircraft 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

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.