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Tuesday, June 16, 1998 Published at 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

A provider of missile technology

The BBC's Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus reports on North Korea's missile programme.

The North Korean Government's insistence that it will continue to develop and export ballistic missiles unless the United States lifts economic sanctions against it, represents an unusually frank statement of the country's role in the proliferation of missile technology.

North Korea is believed by western security sources to have helped both Iran and Syria with their missile programmes and is a key element in Pakistan's missile programme.

North Korea's missile programmes have reached a critical threshold.

Up to now North Korean scientists concentrated on developing and enhancing basic Russian missile technology.

The current North Korean Nodong missile can strike targets up to 1,000km away - almost three times the range of the Scud missile on which it is based. But in other respects, this single-stage, liquid fuelled missile is very similar to the Scud.

According to US sources, North Korea is working on a new missile, the Taepo-dong, which could have a range of as much as 1,600km. This two-stage missile represents a significant advance for the North Koreans.

And there are already fears in Washington that this new technology will ultimately find its way to some of North Korea's clients.

North Korea is at the centre of a network of shadowy contacts extending to Syria, Iran and Pakistan. Indeed, North Korean help may have been vital to Pakistan in developing its recently tested Ghauri missile.

Given China's close ties with Pakistan, there are fears that Chinese technology could also have been passed to the North Koreans. Japan - increasingly worried by the North Korean missile threat - is thinking more and more seriously about investing in anti-missile defences.

But North Korea appears to be hinting that there could be economic and diplomatic ways of constraining the transfer of its missile technology.

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