WASHINGTON -- Over the objections of the United States, Russian cargo planes flew special truck chassis that are commonly used for mobile missile launchers from North Korea to Syria last summer, Clinton administration officials say.
Aides familiar with classified intelligence reports said two large Russian Condor planes had transported the vehicles in August. U.S. intelligence officials said the vehicles had probably been taken from there to a missile plant at Nasariya for use in Syria's Scud missile program.
Concerned that they could add to Syria's military potential against Israel, the Clinton administration asked Russia to stop the planes before they left North Korea.
But after failing to persuade President Boris N. Yeltsin's government to halt the flights, the administration sought to keep the episode under wraps, apparently fearing that it could complicate efforts to build support for the Russian president and to persuade Syria to be more forthcoming in the Middle East peace talks.
Clinton administration officials say the flights were undertaken by a private Russian company, not the Russian military, and were motivated by a desire for cash.
The officials said Moscow had been helpful in trying to dissuade North Korea from proceeding with its nuclear program. They said Russia recently expelled a senior North Korean diplomat who had been trying to lure Russian scientists to his country to work on North Korea's missile and space programs.
The August episode reflects the difficulty the Clinton administration has encountered in trying to control the spread of missile technology when arms producers need cash.