- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

TEHRAN — Determined not to budge under pressure, Iran announced new tests of short-range missiles yesterday, and hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed criticism that the country’s economy has been hurt by U.N. sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.

The missile tests come as the U.S. Navy is sending a second aircraft carrier to the volatile Persian Gulf. U.S. officials said the USS John C. Stennis, which will arrive in the region within weeks, is meant to be a warning to Iran.

The deployment appeared to alarm some in Iran’s hard-line leadership, including a member of a powerful cleric-run body who warned last week that Washington plans to attack, possibly by striking Iranian nuclear facilities.

U.S. officials have long refused to rule out any options in the face-off with Tehran, but they say military action would be a last resort.

Stressing Iran’s preparedness, state television said the Revolutionary Guards planned to begin three days of testing the short-range Zalzal and Fajr-5 missiles yesterday. It could not be confirmed whether the exercise had begun near Garmsar, a city about 60 miles southeast of Tehran.

“The maneuver is aimed at evaluating defensive and fighting capabilities of the missiles,” the report quoted an unidentified Guards commander as saying.

Last year, Iran held three large-scale military exercises to test what it called an “ultra-horizon” missile and the Fajr-3, a rocket that it says can evade radar and use multiple warheads to hit several targets simultaneously.

Though U.S. officials suggest Iran exaggerates its military capabilities, Washington is concerned about Iranian progress in developing missiles. Some of its missiles are capable of hitting U.S.-allied Arab nations and Israel, which Mr. Ahmadinejad has said should be wiped off the map.

The United States, which led military maneuvers of its own in the Persian Gulf in October, also accuses Iran of supporting militants in Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed and is trying to rally Arab allies to isolate the Tehran regime.

Iran’s new maneuvers are the first since the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions last month over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiance of its demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment. The sanctions ban selling materials and technology that could be used in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

The United States and its allies accuse Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons in violation of its treaty commitments. Tehran has repeatedly denied that, saying its program is solely for the purpose of developing nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has remained defiant, saying Iran has the right to conduct uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors but also provide material fuel for atomic bombs.

The president’s tough talk has come under criticism from both ends of Iran’s political spectrum. Some reformists and conservatives have accused Mr. Ahmadinejad of focusing too much on fiery anti-Western rhetoric and not enough on domestic issues, including the economy.

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