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Why Iranian engineers attended North Korea's failed rocket launch

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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.”

What the North contributes to Iran

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.

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