- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

Iran rebuked the United States and its Western partners Sunday by testing a series of short-range rockets, almost as a caveat after days of rancor over Tehran’s acknowledgment that it was building a second facility capable of making fuel for atomic bombs.

Iran also said it tested a multiple rocket launcher for the first time, with its official English-language press broadcasting images of missiles being fired as part of a military drill by a unit of the Revolutionary Guard.

The test missiles were launched within hours of an acknowledgment by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the U.S. has no permanent military solution to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

“The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time,” Mr. Gates told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The only way you end up not having a nuclear-capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons, as opposed to strengthened,” Mr. Gates said.

He added: “While you don’t take options off the table, I think there’s still room left for diplomacy.”

Mr. Gates also said estimates show that Iran, if left unchecked, could produce nuclear weapons within one to three years.

Iran claims it is enriching uranium to fuel power plants. But Mr. Gates said Iran’s disclosure last week of a second uranium-enrichment plant appeared to belie those claims.

Mr. Gates said intelligence agencies from the U.S. and its partners, including the British and French, have been watching the construction of the facility for “at least a couple of years” but waited to go public “to ensure that our conclusions about its purpose were right.”

He said now there is “no doubt that this is an illicit nuclear facility, if only because the Iranians kept it a secret.”

“If they wanted it for peaceful nuclear purposes, there’s no reason to put it so deep underground, no reason to be deceptive about it, keep it a secret for a protracted period of time,” he said.

The site is in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom and is thought to be heavily patrolled by the Revolutionary Guard.

The site is likely to call into question the public summary of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which said that Iran had halted its weapons program, and raise suspicions that the summary was deliberately toned down.

The intelligence estimate defined the activities of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” in the assessment’s footnotes as nuclear weapon design, weaponization work and “covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

The intelligence estimate also revealed that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

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