A former Iranian diplomat who defected to the West this year said Tuesday he saw North Korean technicians repeatedly travel to Iran, which Western officials fear is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
The comments at a Paris think tank conference come amid rising international concerns that North Korea, which has already staged atomic tests, is cooperating with Iran on its nuclear program.
Heydari said that from 2002 to 2007, when he headed the Iranian Foreign Ministry's office for airports, he saw many technicians from North Korea travel to Iran.
"I witnessed repeated roundtrips of North Korean specialists and technicians — given that I was right there at the border — who came to collaborate on the Iranian nuclear program," he said through a translator.
Heydari said their visits were handled "in a very discreet way, so they could come through unnoticed."
Heydari said he also had contacts then with officials from Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and "it was clearly said that Iran was concentrating on two objectives ... the first was to build the range of surface-to-surface missiles, the second was to get a nuclear weapon with North Korea's help."
Separately Tuesday, Saed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, denied that North Korean technicians had come to Iran to help the country develop nuclear weapons capabilities.
"What you said, sir, about North Korea, I completely refute it. It's totally fabricated," said Jalili, when asked about the defector's comments at a news conference in Geneva.
Today, Heydari heads the "Green Embassies Campaign," which seeks to rally opposition groups that adopted green as their symbolic color against the Iranian government after last year's presidential election. The opposition claims Ahmadinejad won it through massive vote fraud.
Based on information from "friends and contacts" still in the know about the visits by North Korean technicians, Heydari said he is "100 percent certain" they are continuing.
A U.S. intelligence assessment — published among the flood of classified U.S. State Department memos obtained by WikiLeaks — concluded that Iran received advanced North Korean missiles capable of targeting Western European capitals and giving Iran's arsenal a significantly longer reach than previously disclosed.
Heydari insisted a nuclear-armed Iran would "not be just a threat for the region, but for Europe" as well. Tehran says its nuclear program is aimed to produce electricity, not weapons — a claim many in the West have dismissed as inaccurate.
Heydari was the first of at least three Iranian diplomats who have defected this year. He said he quit his post in Norway to protest the killing of eight Iranian demonstrators during a Dec. 27 opposition rally in Tehran.
A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Oslo said then that Heydari was lying about his defection, insisting that his job with Iran's Foreign Ministry had ended in December 2009 and that he had wanted to stay in Norway.
Heydari said he is working with about "five or six" current Iranian diplomats in Europe who also are preparing to defect, but he didn't provide details "because it's very dangerous for them."