N. Korea to mass-produce Syria-provided missile.



SEOUL, June 2 Kyodo

North Korea has apparently agreed to mass-produce a small, Russian-designed missile that it recently obtained from Syria, according to a Western diplomatic source.

The missile in question is the Kornet anti-tank guided missile developed by KBP Instrument Design Bureau, a Russian government-backed defense contractor based in Tula, Russia, said the source, who closely monitors Syrian-North Korean affairs.

The source, citing information received from people closely associated with the matter, said the Syrian-North Korean agreement indicates that North Korea is making efforts to earn foreign currency not only through nuclear and ballistic missiles but through upgrading and mass-production of conventional weapons.

Japan and the United States suspect that North Korea has obtained funds for development of weapons of mass destruction through transactions in small conventional weapons.

The two countries have pressed the U.N. Security Council to incorporate a complete ban on weapons exports in sanctions to be taken in response to the North's second underground nuclear test conducted last week.

The source said four members of North Korea's Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. (KOMID) joined a delegation from the North's Information Committee that traveled to the Middle East in mid-March.

In Syria, the KOMID members met with several senior officials of the Scientific Studies Research Center, a Syrian government body in charge of procurement, research, development and production for military needs and for production of non-conventional weapons and missiles to deliver them, the source said.

In the talks, the North Korean officials agreed to develop copies of the Kornet missile by reverse engineering and to provide them to Syria, the source said, adding that Syria's military authorities authorized the deal.

Syria sent eight Kornet missiles to North Korea for research purposes by freighter. North Korea may develop an advanced version of the missile, the source said.

KOMID, which is North Korea's key firm involved in arms transactions, is suspected of exporting not only conventional weapons but also ballistic missile-related equipment.

In response to North Korea's long-range ballistic missile launch in April, a U.N. sanctions committee designated three entities as being subject to an asset freeze due to suspected activities related to nuclear weapons and missile development. KOMID is one of the three.

Syria's Scientific Studies Research Center is suspected of being involved in the development of weapons of mass destruction and missiles.

South Korean intelligence officials said they have confirmed that North Korea possesses outdated anti-tank guided missiles developed by KPB. South Korea has yet to confirm the Kornet missile is in the North's possession.

The Kornet anti-tank guided missile is said to be capable of penetrating 1,200 millimeters of armor. Its export version is called the Kornet-E.

In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. forces did not know that Iraq possessed the Kornet missile and as a result suffered greater damage than expected, according to media reports.

Lebanese Hezbollah militants were reported to have used the Kornet missile against Israeli forces in 2006 in southern Lebanon. Syria is suspected of providing the missile to Hezbollah after Russia denied its sale.

Meanwhile, South Korean media reports say that North Korea earned about $100 million through the sale of missile technologies, gunboats and multiple rocket artilleries to the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America in 2008.

According to a U.S. congressional report, North Korea exported

$1 billion worth of conventional weapons between 2000 and 2007, ranking 11th among the world's weapons-exporting countries. The top 10 consist of the five veto-wielding countries on the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia -- and five other countries -- Germany, Israel, Sweden, Ukraine and Italy.

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