North Korea, locked in a nuclear standoff with the United States, plans to import leading-edge Russian missile and rocket systems via Syria to upgrade
its ballistic missiles, a press report said Thursday.
The Stalinist state is expected to use the hardware, including the hi-tech tactical missile Iskandar-E and the multiple launch rocket system Smerch,
to upgrade the guidance system and other functions of its long-range missiles, the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun said.
North Korea and Syria have a secret deal on the trade, possibly based on an agreement on scientific and technological cooperation which was concluded
last year, the conservative daily quoted military sources, well informed on Korean affairs, as saying.
The science and technology accord was signed when North Korea's number-two Kim Yong-Nam, the head of the Supreme People's Assembly, visited Syria in
July last year.
At that time, Kim handed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a personal letter from North Korea's absolute leader Kim Jong-Il, calling for closer
ties between the two countries.
North Korean missile engineers are already staying in Syria to prepare for the arrival of the Russian hardware, the report said. They are expected to
arrange the further shipment of the hardware under cover by sea to North Korea.
The Russians have not been informed of the secret transfer deal, the report said.
In exchange for the shipment, North Korea will cooperate with Syria's development of ballistic missiles, tthe report said.
North Korea has ballistic Rodong missiles, which can strike almost all of Japan, and longer-range Taepodong missiles.
In 1998, Pyongyang sent shockwaves around the world by test-firing a suspected Taepodong-1 missile, part of which flew over Japan's main island of
Honshu and into the Pacific.
Five years earlier, North Korea launched into the Sea of Japan a Rodong-1 missile with a range of 1,300 kilometers (810 miles) after testing two types
of crude Scud missiles.
According to South Korean defence ministry data, North Korea is currently testing Taepodong-1 missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles)
and is also developing a longer-range Taepodong-2.
Some military analysts here have predicted that this year the North would test-fire a Taepodong-2, which could be capable of reaching parts of the
continental United States.
North Korea has launched at least two short-range land-to-ship missiles off its coasts in recent weeks, as it has angrily alleged that is is being
eyed as the next target of a pre-emptive US military attack to snuff out its suspected nuclear arms ambitions.