The White House responded sharply Wednesday to word that Iran has tested an upgraded version of its most advanced missile, which is capable of hitting Israel and parts of Europe.
"At a time when the international community has offered Iran opportunities to begin to build trust and confidence, Iran's missile tests only undermine Iran's claims of peaceful intentions," said Mike Hammer, a National Security Council spokesman. "Such actions will increase the seriousness and resolve of the international community to hold Iran accountable for its continued defiance of its international obligations on its nuclear program."
The missile test was a provocative gesture at a time when the United States, the European Union and other allies are pondering a tough, new sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to drop its suspected military nuclear programs.
But experts on Iran said they did not believe the test was intended to stoke tensions as much as it was likely needed to help Iran continue to make progress with its increasingly sophisticated missile program.
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"They're continuing to make steady progress on their missile program. This is a worrying fact," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This is quite a sophisticated missile -- better than the Scud knockoff they were using before."
The Sajjil 2, a two-stage, surface-to-surface missile that is powered entirely by solid fuel, has a potential range of 1,200 miles, easily putting Israel, parts of southeastern Europe and U.S. bases in the Middle East within its reach. It is Iran's most advanced missile.
Mr. Clawson said it is believed Iran is still roughly three years from deploying the missile, but the test makes clear the research gains Iran has made in recent years.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the test provided more compelling evidence for those who are trying to persuade the international community to impose tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran -- a move that could come early next year.
"This is a matter of serious concern to the international community, and it does make the case for us moving further on sanctions. We will treat this with the seriousness it deserves," Mr. Brown said after talks with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Copenhagen, according to the Associated Press.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking House Republican, also condemned the Iranian test.
"The United States must not fall silent in the face of Iranian aggression and provocation, and we must lead the international community to impose sweeping sanctions against the Iranian economy until Iran changes course," he said in a statement.
The House this week approved legislation giving the Obama administration new authority to impose sanctions on the Iranian regime, this time targeting international companies or individuals who sell or ship gasoline to Iran.