Friday, March 18, 2005

Ukraine sold nuclear capable cruise missiles to Iran

Facing growing international pressure, Ukraine admitted on Friday that it had sold 12 long-range cruise missiles capable of reaching Israel to Iran, the Financial Times has reported.

According to the report, Kiev also sold China six of the X-55 missiles, which have a range of 3,000 kilometers.

The report quoted Ukraine's Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun as saying that the missiles were exported to Iran and China in 2001, although they were not equipped with a nuclear warhead.

Ukraine had about 1,000 of the missiles in its arsenal after the break-up of the Soviet Union, about half of which were meant to have been turned over to Russia in the 1990s and the other half of which were supposed to have been destroyed under a US-funded disarmament program.

Piskun stressed that the former Ukrainian government arrested and prosecuted a local businessman and initiated a secret trial last year, which was still under way.

Two Russian businessmen were suspected of masterminding the sale, Piskun said, one of whom, Oleg Orlov, was arrested last July in Prague in response to a Ukrainian warrant. The Czech justice ministry said it was holding Orlov pending a hearing on Ukraine's extradition request.

The US embassy in Kiev said it was "closely monitoring" the investigation and wanted the findings of a secret trial made public. The US is critical of European diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.