Ukraine official: Missiles sold to Iran

A Ukrainian official has acknowledged exporting 12 cruise missiles to Iran and six to China amid mounting pressure from other countries to explain how the sales occurred, the Financial Times reported.

    The arms news came after Viktor Yushchenko's election

    It quoted on Friday Ukraine's prosecutor-general Svyatoslav Piskun as

    saying 18 X-55 cruise missiles, also known as Kh-55s or AS-15s,

    were exported in 2001, although none was exported with the

    nuclear warheads they were designed to carry.

    The X-55 had a range of 3000km, enough to

    put Japan within striking range of the Asian continent or to

    reach Israel from Iran, said the newspaper, adding Piskun's

    statement was the first confirmation by a government official of

    the exports.

    The news of the missile exports came less than three months

    after Ukrainians elected a new Western-leaning president, Viktor

    Yushchenko, to lead the former Soviet republic.

    US concern

    The United States has long expressed concern that parts of

    the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal could be sold or

    smuggled to countries that it regards as a potential danger.

    Viktor Yushchenko (L) wants to
    steer Ukraine towards the EU

    Piskun said the previous Russian-backed government arrested

    and charged a Ukrainian businessman over the exports and

    initiated a secret trial last year. Two Russian businessmen were

    suspected of masterminding the sale, one of whom was arrested in

    Prague last July and was under an extradition request, he said.

    The Financial Times quoted the US embassy in Kiev as

    saying it was "closely monitoring" a Ukrainian government

    investigation into the case and wanted the findings of the

    secret trial made public.

    The United States accuses Iran of trying to secretly develop

    a nuclear weapons programme. Tehran denies the charge, saying

    its nuclear programme is only for power generation.

    Piskun was quoted as saying he understood Japan was

    concerned that the missiles delivered to China could have ended

    up in North Korea, although there were no grounds to suspect

    such a transfer.

    Yushchenko wants to steer Ukraine towards membership of the

    25-nation European Union, which expects to lift an arms embargo

    against China by the end of June.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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