SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean technicians scrutinizing the debris of the North Korean rocket launched this month have found evidence suggesting the rocket's military purposes and the North's technological ties with Iran in efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, South Korean officials said Sunday.
North Korea insists that its Unha-3 rocket, launched Dec. 12 to put an earth-observation satellite in orbit, was part of its peaceful space program. But intelligence officials and rocket scientists affiliated with the South Korean Defense Ministry said that through the rocket launching, North Korea was testing a ballistic missile that can fly more than 6,000 miles, with a warhead of about 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, putting the United States' west coast in range.
They spoke to the media after analyzing the rocket's flight data and the debris of its oxidizer tank, which they recovered in waters off South Korea two days after the launch. Over the weekend, the South Korean navy also salvaged the remnants of the rocket's fuel tank and part of its engine, which officials hoped would provide more clues to the North's rocket technology.
The design of the oxidizer tank suggested an Iran connection in North Korea's rocket program, a senior military intelligence official said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.
The officials said it marked a great technological advance for North Korea to launch a rocket successfully and put an object into orbit. All North Korea's previous rocket tests had failed to reach orbit, according to Western officials.
The officials said there was no confirmation of whether the North had the re-entry technology needed for the warhead of an intercontinental ballistic missile to survive the heat and vibration when it crashes through the Earth's atmosphere.
U.N. Security Council resolutions, imposed after the North's nuclear teats in 2006 and 2009, ban the country, a U.N. member, from launching any rocket that uses ballistic missile technology.