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U.S. fears Iran has long-range missile, but Russia calls it a 'myth'

By Laurie Ure, CNN
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U.S. fears Iran has long-range missile
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. and Russian officials disagree on reported Iranian missile
  • The dispute was recounted in one of the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables

Washington (CNN) -- The United States believes that North Korea is supplying Iran with long-range missiles, suggesting Iran has strike capabilities are stronger than discussed in public, according to one of the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables released Sunday.

The issue was raised by American diplomats in a high level-meeting with their Russian counterparts in late 2009, but the Russians expressed doubt on the U.S. concern, according to the cable. The revelation is in one of the documents published by WikiLeaks, the online whistleblower website that began releasing a cache of more than 250,000 cables Sunday.

The document, dated February 24 and labeled "secret," details a meeting between the United States and Russia in which U.S. representatives expressed belief that North Korea supplied Iran with missiles.

The cable cites the U.S. belief that 19 BM-25 missiles were shipped to Iran in 2005. According to Jane's, a weapons research company, the missiles are reported to have a range somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 km (1,560 to 2,500 miles).

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The Russians expressed doubts about the claim, citing lack of evidence, the cable states. But the Americans countered that some countries have offered direct evidence, and said they would try to bring further evidence to future meetings.

The United States believes that Iran wanted the missiles for the propulsion technology. But in an exchange described in the cable, U.S. and Russian officials debated whether North Korea even had the BM-25 missile at all, and the Russians asked whether the United States had any images of the missile.

"The U.S. did not, but noted that North Korea had paraded the missile through the streets of Pyongyang. Russia disagreed," the cable noted. The Russians countered that a review of the video of that parade showed a different video and "the missile appears to be a myth."

In what the cable describes as a "vigorous session of questions and answers" discussing ballistic missile threats, Russia detailed its assessment of Iran's missile program, and the degree to which Russia believes these programs constitute threats that would require missile defense responses. The cable said Russia believes Iran's "success" is that it has created Shahab-3 missiles that can reach targets in the Middle East and southeastern Europe, but they cannot do substantial damage with conventional warheads.

According to the cable, the Russian Defense Ministry's Evgeny Zudin said that although Iran can build prototypes of long-range systems, it lacks structural materials such as high-quality aluminum to do so, and it also does not have the materials necessary for the kind of mass production that would make it a security threat at the moment or in the near future.

Russia believes although Iran might be able to begin a ballistic missile program with a 2,000- to 3000-mile (3,200-to 4,800-km) range after 2015, it does not see Iran moving in this direction. Russia has instead concluded that Iran's ballistic missile program is directed toward developing combat-ready missiles to address regional concerns, the cable states.

"In their analysis, the missile programs of Iran and the [North Koreans] are not sufficiently developed, and their intentions to use missiles against the U.S. or Russia are nonexistent, thus not constituting a "threat" requiring the deployment of missile defenses," the cable's author noted.

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