A senior Bush administration official says Iranian representatives witnessed North
Korean missile tests earlier this month. In an appearance before a Senate panel, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill underscored U.S. concern about growing ties between the two countries with nuclear ambitions.
Under questioning by Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia, Ambassador Hill told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iranian representatives were on hand to witness North Korea's missile tests on July 4.
ALLEN: "Is it not true that there was at least one or more Iranian officials there to watch those missile launches?"
HILL: "Yes, that is our understanding."
When asked if the United States found the relationship between Pyongyang and Tehran worrisome, Hill said that was "absolutely correct."
The United States has been concerned about the prospects of North Korea selling missiles.
Ambassador Hill said it is the administration's understanding that North Korea has had a number of commercial relations in the Middle East with respect to missiles. But he said he knew of no instance in which Pyongyang offered to sell plutonium - something he says North Korea understands would be, in his words, a very serious matter.
At the White House later in the day, spokesman Tony Snow said it is not clear whether Pyongyang has sold any missiles.
"It is not something we can nail down," he said.
At the Senate hearing, Ambassador Hill was asked why North Korea launched the missiles despite international warnings. He replied it may have been what he called "a misplaced sense of how to enhance their position," or get more concessions, in six-party talks.
Hill said it is difficult to predict what North Korean leader Kim Jong-il might do next, but he offered some speculation:
"We need to be prepared that he may want to show what is in his view more and more strength."
Hill again called on North Korea to rejoin six-party talks. Pyongyang has boycotted the talks since November, angry over U.S. financial sanctions for alleged counterfeiting of U.S. currency and money laundering.
The U.N. Security Council Saturday passed a resolution criticizing North Korea's missile tests and banning U.N. member states from trading with Pyongyang in missile-related technology. North Korea has rejected the resolution.
Ambassador Hill says the United States hopes to use the resolution to work with other countries to press North Korea to return to the talks.