Documents: Iran Obtained Missiles From N. Korea

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According to newly leaked State Department cables, Iran is now likely in possession of at least 19 advanced medium range missiles — missiles that could reach as far as Berlin and Vienna. According to one of the documents, Iran obtained those missiles from North Korea. For more, NPR's Guy Raz talks to David Fulghum, senior military editor for Aviation Week.

GUY RAZ, host:

Iran is now likely in possession of at least 19 advanced medium-range missiles - missiles that could reach as far as Berlin and Vienna. This, too, is a revelation from the leaked State Department cables.

According to one of the documents, Iran obtained those missiles from North Korea - missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The document itself has not been published, but it has been reported on in The New York Times and the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper.

David Fulghum is senior military editor for Aviation Week, and he's written extensively about missile technology, and he joins us me now. Welcome.

Mr. DAVID FULGHUM (Senior Military Editor, Aviation Week): Hello.

RAZ: So this missile is apparently a North Korean version of a Russian missile. This one is called the BM25. What does it mean for Iran's overall missile capability now versus what it was, say, two years ago?

Mr. FULGHUM: Well, the Shahab-3, which is a version of the North Korean No Dong, was their longest-range missile before. This increases the range to 3-, 4,000 kilometers, which goes from maybe threatening one end of Italy to threatening most of Central Europe and parts of Russia.

RAZ: So pretty substantial increase in Iran's potential missile range.

Mr. FULGHUM: Yeah. But there's another tactical part of it, too, though, is that these are mobile launchers, and they can be moved into the far western - or far eastern reaches of Iran, where there are no Western aircraft that can really get to them. That means there's lots of places for them to hide, far greater than their older shorter-range missiles, which had to be closer to the border, and therefore were more subject to attack.

RAZ: Say Iran developed a nuclear warhead, how much of a challenge would it be for Iran to attach a warhead to one of those missiles?

Mr. FULGHUM: I don't think the attaching would be so much as making something small enough to fit inside a warhead. The threat is going to be more important than the actual ability to wipe out a couple of cities, I think, and that would be what would make it a huge bargaining chip - just think of the impact that Scuds, who have virtually no guidance, made during Desert Storm. It was all the U.S. could do to keep the Israelis from retaliating. Now, just enlarge that battlefield by 10 times and suddenly you start seeing some idea of the international implications.

RAZ: Are these missiles operational? Are they ready to go? Could Iran affix some kind of warhead to these missiles and launch them tomorrow?

Mr. FULGHUM: Well, you could, but that's not very many missiles. If you suspect that you need to target two or three of these to ensure you hit one target, then you're talking about a handful of targets. And who do you want to make angry and how much political impact would that have? I mean, just alienating the whole world against you doesn't seem to be very cleaver. But if you threaten, if you say we have these things and they're ready to go, or, I think more importantly, what they are doing is testing them, saying once we get the testing and the design done, we can make these things by the hundreds. That would, I think, be far more important.

RAZ: That's David Fulghum. He's the senior military editor for Aviation Week. David Fulghum, thanks.

Mr. FULGHUM: Thank you.

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