North Korea, Iran Highlight Proliferation Risks of Knowledge Transfers

North Korea, Iran Highlight Proliferation Risks of Knowledge Transfers

Amid concerns that North Korea might conduct a long-range ballistic missile test as early as this week, reports have surfaced indicating that Iran has permanently stationed staff in the East Asian country since October as part of a recent cooperation agreement with Pyongyang. According to the reports, the staff is comprised of four experts from Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) as well as private firms. Some analysts speculate that the mission might be based near Sino-ri, a complex located near North Korea's western coast and the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, commonly known as Tongchang-ri, where this month's missile test is expected to take place. Besides serving as a base for a No-dong missile battalion, Sino-ri is also thought to host a training facility.

Military cooperation between Iran and North Korea is not a new phenomenon, particularly when it comes to exchanges of hardware and designs for ballistic missiles. In fact, the rocket North Korea is expected to test this month, the multi-stage Unha-3, a variation of the Taepodong-2, is believed to be the product of a joint development project between the two countries. Multiple design similarities between the Unha and some Iranian launch vehicles provide some evidence for this belief. For instance, the first stage of the Unha resembles the Simorgh rocket unveiled by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the anniversary of the 2010 launch of Iran’s first domestic satellite, Omid. Likewise, the width and shape of the Unha's third stage point to a similarity with the third stage of Iran's Safir rocket, which carried the Omid satellite.

The panels of experts in charge of monitoring implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions against both countries' nuclear and missile programs have recently noted that Pyongyang and Tehran continue to exchange missile technology, transferring missile components aboard Air Koryo and Air Iran flights. These exchanges have also benefited Iran. The U.S. intelligence community believes that the Safir might have been developed with technology provided by North Korea, specifically, engines derived from the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile. Likewise, in the past, North Korea provided Iran with engines that were later used to develop the Shahab-3 rocket.

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