Concern mounts as Iran tests most advanced missiles

IRAN yesterday tested its most advanced missiles to cap two days of war games, raising more international concern and stronger pressure to come clean on the newly revealed nuclear site Tehran was secretly constructing.

State television said the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which controls Iran’s missile programme, successfully tested upgraded versions of the medium-range Shahab-3 and Sajjil missiles. Both can carry warheads and reach up to 2,000 kilometres, putting Israel, US military bases in the Middle East, and parts of Europe within striking distance.

The missile tests were meant to flex Iran’s military might and show readiness for any military threat.

“Iranian missiles are able to target any place that threatens Iran,” said Abdollah Araqi, a top Revolutionary Guard commander,according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Iran conducted three rounds of missile tests in drills that began on Sunday, two days after the US and its allies disclosed the country had been secretly developing an underground uranium enrichment facility. The Western powers warned Iran it must open the site tointernational inspection or face harsher international sanctions.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said the missile tests had nothing to do with the tension over the site, saying it was part of routine, long-planned military exercises.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he was concerned about the missile tests.

He said Iran must immediately resolve issues surrounding its second nuclear enrichment facility with the UN’s nuclear agency.

The newly revealednuclear site has given greater urgency to a key meeting on Thursday in Genevabetween Iran and six major powers trying to stop its suspected nuclear weapons programme. Solana said those talks are now taking place “in a new context”.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she doesn’t believe Iran can convince the US and other world powers at the upcoming meeting that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, as Tehran claims. That puts Tehran on a course for tougher economic penalties beyond the current “leaky sanctions”, she said.

The nuclear site is located in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom and is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard, according to a document sent by President Barack Obama’s administration to lawmakers. Qashqavi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, identified the site as Fordo, a village located 180km south of the capital, Tehran. The site is 100km away from Natanz, Iran’s known industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant.

After strong condemnations from the US and itsallies, Iran said on Saturday it will allow UN nuclear inspectors to examine the site.

Israel has trumpeted the latest discoveries as proof of its long-held assertion Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

By US estimates, Iran is one to five years away from having nuclear weaponscapability, although USintelligence also believesIranian leaders have not yet made the decision to build a weapon. Iran also is developing ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, but the administration said last week that it believes that effort has been slowed. That assessment paved the way for Obama’s decision to shelve the Bush administration’s plan for a missile shield in Europe, which was aimed at defending against Iranian ballistic missiles.

The Sajjil-2 missile is Iran’s most advanced two-stage surface-to-surface missile and is powered entirely by solid-fuel while the older Shahab-3 uses a combination of solid and liquid fuel in its most advanced form, which is also known as the Qadr-F1.

Solid fuel is seen as a technological breakthrough for any missile programme, as solid fuel increases the accuracy of missiles in reaching targets.

Experts say Sajjil-2 is more accurate than Shahab missiles and its navigation system is more advanced.

State media reported tests overnight of the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles, with ranges of 300km and 700km respectively.

That followed tests early on Sunday of the short range Fateh, Tondar and Zelzal missiles, which have a range of 193km, 150km and 200km respectively.

Iran’s last known missile tests were in May when it fired its longest-range solid-fuel missile, Sajjil-2. Tehran said the two-stage surface-to-surface missile has a range of about 1,900km – capable of striking Israel, US Middle East bases and south-eastern Europe.


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