The differences, say analysts here and in Washington may not be significant. North Korea already has nuclear warheads while Iran denies it plans to make them. Iran has launched satellites while North Korea claims to have done so but has not. North Korea has developed long-range missiles, including the one that failed last week, while Iran has focused on advanced versions of middle-range missiles capable of reaching Israel.
“Iran in most respects is a larger, more sophisticated country,” observes Greg Thielmann, formerly with the State Department and now senior fellow at the Arms Control Association in Washington. “They have a lot more resources. The Iranians have conducted a lot of missile tests. North Korean testing is much less frequent.”
Although generally behind Iran technically and scientifically, and suffering from far more severe economic problems, North Korea contributed to Iran’s program by exporting its mid-range Nodong missiles, originally based on Soviet technology, more than 10 years ago.
“This was always a commercial relationship on the part of North Korea,” says Mr. Thielmann, former director of strategic, proliferation, and military affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
“Iran wanted to adapt these missiles and make them their own,” adds Thielmann.
In fact, Iranian scientists and engineers did just that, producing Shahab missiles capable of delivering warheads to targets in Israel.
It was its interest in North Korean missiles that prompted Iran to send a large team to witness the launch of Unha-3, the long-range North Korean missile that failed last week. The word Unha means “galaxy” and the number 3 indicates it’s the third launch of the same missile. Earlier versions were test-fired in August 1998 and April 2009.