Iran, with help from Russia and other countries, is developing a long range missile that will give it the ability to strike Nato countries in Europe for the first time, a senior United States administration official said today.
The so-called Shahab-4 missile has a 1,250-mile range, putting it within reach of Italy and Germany as well as southern Sweden, according to the official.
The development is worrisome to US officials because Iran has been viewed by the State Department as the world’s most active terrorist country.
President George W Bush has identified Iran as one of three ‘‘axis of evil’’ members along with Iraq and North Korea.
But an Iranian attack against US allies in Europe is considered highly unlikely because most of these countries maintain normal ties with Tehran and believe such links can help moderate Iran’s behaviour.
Older generation Iranian missiles, including the Shahab-3, have a shorter range and are capable of reaching Israel and US troops in Saudi Arabia.
Iran seems increasingly confident about its military prowess. This was apparent when strains developed with Israel following Israel’s interception in January of a shipment of Iranian weapons to Palestinian areas.
At one point, Iranian Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani warned that if Israel ‘‘carries out any military action against Iran, the response will be beyond the imagination of any Israeli politician’’.
Iran’s missile development is proceeding hand in hand with efforts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The senior official said Iran’s military build-up cannot be justified as a defence against neighbour and long-time rival Iraq, pointing out that the missiles Iran is developing fly well beyond Iraq.
In a speech Monday, Under Secretary of State John Bolton highlighted Iran’s progress in developing biological and chemical weapons. He also alluded to its ‘‘ongoing interest in nuclear weapons, and its aggressive ballistic missile research, development, and flight testing regimen’’.
A CIA report issued earlier this year said Iran has been receiving missile equipment, technology and related expertise from Russia, North Korea and China.