- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

HONOLULU Iran's successful flight test of its new medium-range Shahab-3 shows Tehran is moving ahead with several types of long-range missiles, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said yesterday.
The missile test also highlights the growing danger of missile proliferation by Iran and other rogue states and the need for defenses to protect the American people from missile attack, he said.
"Any time you have a success in a theater missile system that gives you confidence to go forward with more tests with greater capability," Mr. Cohen said in an in-flight interview aboard an Air Force C-32 jetliner.
Missile development "has a way of going almost exponentially once you get some of the fundamentals down."
"I think there is absolutely the potential to accelerate development with each successful test," he said after a visit to Sydney, Australia.
Mr. Cohen signed an agreement yesterday with Australian Defense Minister John C. Moore that will make it easier for U.S. weapons technology to be sent to Australia.
Mr. Cohen said he was pleased by public statements of support by Australian leaders that they would back U.S. efforts to operate a national missile defense, including the use of a satellite relay station in central Australia called Pine Gap.
The United States is stepping up defense ties with Australia by increasing weapons technology transfers, improving missile warning cooperation and even preparing for joint military action should tension in the Taiwan Strait boil over.
The Iranian missile program is "one of the reasons why it's important to undertake to research, develop and potentially deploy a national missile defense (NMD) system that would provide protection against countries such as Iran posing a threat to the United States," he said.
"So we have watched it very closely," Mr. Cohen said. "This has not come as a surprise, that they will continue to research, test and develop and deploy the missiles in the future."
Iran test-fired a Shahab-3 medium-range missile on Saturday.
It is believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to have a range of 620 miles. The missile is capable of hitting Israel and U.S. forces based in the Persian Gulf.
Iran is believed to be developing two longer-range missiles known as the Shahab-4 and Shahab-5, the latter having intercontinental range.
"Past tests were not successful," Mr. Cohen said. "This represents a continuation of their testing program."
The Pentagon has no information indicating the tests were linked to ongoing Middle East peace talks in the United States, he said.
The timing of the flight test also coincides with Mr. Cohen's visit to China, where he raised Washington's concerns about China's sale of missile technology to the Middle East and South Asia.
Only two weeks before Mr. Cohen arrived in Beijing, China concluded a technology agreement with Iran. London's Arabic newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, reported June 22 that Iranian President Mohammed Khatami was in Beijing to seal a "strategic partnership" with China, including cooperation on a new generation of Silkworm anti-ship cruise missiles. A Chinese spokesman, however, said last month the visit had nothing to do "with the issue of military cooperation" even though senior Iranian defense officials reportedly were part of the delegation.
Regarding the Shahab missile series, Mr. Cohen said, "we know that they will continue to test it, they will continue to develop a longer-range missile capability, and that's one of the reasons why we believe it's important that the United States continue research and testing and development program for NMD, precisely to deal with countries such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, others."
The Iranian test "confirms our anticipation" about Iran's missile development. "So this is a factor that will have to be taken into account in terms of what the time frame will be, when Iran would have a capability of striking U.S. territory, or that of European nations. So it doesn't change anything; it simply confirms what we have been saying."
Mr. Cohen would not say what he will recommend to President Clinton regarding whether to deploy the national missile defense system under development.
However, he made clear he favors having a defense shield to protect the American people from a limited strike, a position he has held since serving as a Republican senator from Maine.
"You cannot have a situation where the American people are vulnerable to the threats or the intimidation or the actual use [of missiles]," he said.
The final decision on missile defense deployment will factor in such issues as technological feasibility, costs and the effect on arms control efforts, he said.

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