Defector reveals secret trips to Iran by North Korean nuclear experts

A FORMER Iranian diplomat who defected to the West this year has described how he saw North Korean technicians repeatedly travel to Iran, which western officials fear is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Mohammad Reza Heydari, who resigned in January as the Iranian consul in Norway, said he was "certain" the co-operation was continuing between his country and North Korea.

His comments, at a Paris think-tank conference, come amid rising international concerns that North Korea, which has already staged atomic tests, is helping Iran with its nuclear programme.

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Mr Heydari said that from 2002 to 2007, when he headed the Iranian foreign ministry's office with responsibility for airports, he saw many technicians from North Korea travel to Iran.

"I witnessed repeated round-trips of North Korean specialists and technicians - given that I was right there at the border - who came to collaborate on the Iranian nuclear programme," he said through a translator.

He said their visits were handled "in a very discreet way, so they could come through unnoticed".

Mr Heydari said he had also had contacts then with officials from Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and "it was clearly said that Iran was concentrating on two objectives … the first was to build the range of surface-to-surface missiles, the second was to get a nuclear weapon with North Korea's help".

However, Saed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, denied North Korean technicians had gone to Iran to help it develop nuclear weapons capabilities.

"What you said, sir, about North Korea, I completely refute it. It's totally fabricated," Mr Jalili said when asked about the defector's comments at a news conference in Geneva.

Currently, Mr Heydari heads the "Green Embassies Campaign", which seeks to rally opposition groups that adopted green as their symbolic colour against the Iranian government after last year's presidential election. The opposition claims Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won it through massive vote fraud.

Based on information from "friends and contacts" still in the know about the visits by North Korean technicians, Mr Heydari said he was "100 per cent certain" they were continuing.

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A US intelligence assessment, published among the flood of classified US state department memos obtained by Wikileaks, concluded Iran had received advanced North Korean missiles capable of targeting Western European capitals and giving Iran's arsenal a significantly longer reach than previously disclosed.

Russia has cast some doubt on the US assertion about the exact type of missile Iran obtained - the Americans specified 19 North Korean BM-25 missiles, which are based on the nuclear-capable Russian R-27 weapon. Some expert sources think Iran obtained only components from the BM-25, or else it would have test-fired one by now.

Mr Heydari insisted a nuclear-armed Iran would "not be just a threat for the region, but for Europe" as well.Tehran insists its nuclear programme is aimed at producing electricity, not weapons - a claim many in the West have dismissed.

Mr Heydari was the first of at least three Iranian diplomats to defect this year. He said he quit his post in Norway in protest at the killing of eight Iranian demonstrators during an opposition rally in Tehran last December.

A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Oslo said then that Mr Heydari was lying about his defection, claiming his job with Iran's foreign ministry had ended in December 2009 and that he had wanted to stay in Norway.

Mr Heydari said he was working with about "five or six" current Iranian diplomats in Europe who also are preparing to defect, but he didn't provide details "because it's very dangerous for them".