NORTH KOREA'S contract to supply Nodong-1 ballistic missiles to Iran has been shelved, following attempts by the USA to block the deal and Tehran's failure to make payments, according to a senior US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) official.

Negotiations to supply Iran with up to 150 of the 1,000km (540nm)-range missiles had reached an advanced stage by the time North Korea carried out the first successful test-firing of the Nodong-1 in May 1993.

The DIA official reveals, however, that the deal with Iran was covered by the 1994 US-North Korean agreement which defused a crisis over North Korea's nuclear-weapons capabilities.

"The [North] Koreans agreed to hold off with deliveries," says the official. "The contract is presently in abeyance because no money has been exchanged."

He adds that Tehran's priority appears to be weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The top priority in conventional armaments, he says, is development of a "-naval capability to intercept shipping in the Gulf", with the second "the establishment of a country-wide air-defence capability".

In its WMD programmes, Iran had most success in developing chemical-warfare agents.

Tehran has substantial stocks of chemical-filled artillery shells, air bombs and short-range battlefield rockets.

In addition, Washington "assumes" that Iran has the same ability as Iraq to fit chemical warheads to its upgraded Scud missiles, says the DIA official.

"They do not have the ground forces to threaten or intimidate their neighbours, so chemical weapons are a good substitute," he says, and becoming "a standard part of the artillery package".

Iran has demonstrated "a remarkable ability" to keep its ageing US-built military equipment operational, notably the Iranian air force's McDonnell Douglas F-4 and Northrop F-5 fighter-bombers says the DIA official.

In part, this reflects the involvement of foreign, mainly Chinese, personnel.

Source: Flight International