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Iran tests most advanced missiles

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

UPDATED:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran tested its most advanced missiles Monday to cap two days of war games, raising more international concern and stronger pressure to quickly come clean on the newly revealed nuclear site Tehran was secretly constructing.

State television said the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which controls Iran's missile program, successfully tested upgraded versions of the medium-range Shahab-3 and Sajjil missiles. Both can carry warheads and reach up to 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers), putting Israel, U.S. 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 Sunday, two days after the U.S. 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 to international inspection or face harsher international sanctions.

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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 U.N.'s nuclear agency.

The newly revealed nuclear site has given greater urgency to a key meeting on Thursday in Geneva between Iran and six major powers trying to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program. Solana said those talks are now taking place "in a new context."

Britain said Monday's test further illustrates why Europe and the U.S. have serious concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions.

"This sends the wrong signal to the international community at a time when Iran is due to meet" the six world powers, Britain's Foreign Office said. The six nations are the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she doesn't believe Iran can convince the U.S. and other world powers at the upcoming meeting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, as Tehran has long claimed. 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 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of the capital, Tehran. The site is 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Natanz, Iran's known industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant.

After strong condemnations from the U.S. and its allies, Iran said Saturday it will allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine the site.

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

By U.S. estimates, Iran is one to five years away from having nuclear weapons capability, although U.S. intelligence also believes that Iranian 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 program 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 185 miles (300 kilometers) and 435 miles (700 kilometers) respectively.

That followed tests early Sunday of the short range Fateh, Tondar and Zelzal missiles, which have a range of 120 miles (193 kilometers), 93 miles (150 kilometers) and 130 miles (200 kilometers) 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 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) -- capable of striking Israel, U.S. Mideast bases and southeastern Europe.