WASHINGTON -- With the help of North Korea, China and Russia, Iran is trying to develop a missile capable of striking anywhere in the Mideast and hopes to test fire components by the end of the year, the main Iranian opposition group said Wednesday.
But U.S. intelligence experts and other analysts estimate it will be two to 10 years before Iranians will have an operational weapon with a payload and fire it down range.
Officials of the U.S.- and French-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of opposition groups that includes the Peoples' Mujahedeen, released what they said was the most detailed description of the missile project, obtained from sources within the Iranian regime. For security reasons, they declined to be identify their sources.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, a member of the council's foreign relations committee, said that as part of an effort to become the dominant Islamic state in the region and rival Israel in military technology, Iran is doing all it can to obtain weapons of mass destruction and to produce medium-range missiles.
CIA Director George Tenet has said Iran is building capabilities to produce and deliver these chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and probably would have a missile capable of striking Israel and Saudi Arabia in less than 10 years.
Jafarzadeh said Iran had spent $1.2 billion trying to develop the missile, including $300 million last year. He said the engine of the Shahab missile was recently tested successfully. The missile would have a range of more than 800 miles and carry a 2,200-pound payload.
"Presently, dozens of North Korean and Chinese missile experts are stationed at the Hemat (research) complex," Jafarzadeh said. He said Russians were helping Iran with thermodynamic problems and wind-tunnel tests "but North Korean involvement is substantial."