- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

Iran is set to conduct another flight test of its new Shahab-3 missile soon after delaying a launch last week to avoid embarrassing its president during his visit to New York, The Washington Times has learned.
According to U.S. intelligence officials, the Iranians are expected to conduct the test of the new truck-mounted missile later this month. An earlier test was performed in July.
The launch preparations setting up and taking down the missile and support components were photographed by a U.S. spy satellite in the late stages of preparation, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
However, Iranian military officials scrapped the test late last week to avoid causing diplomatic complications for Iranian President Mohammed Khatami during his visit to the United Nations' Millennium Summit meeting this week.
"They are expected to conduct the test later," said one official who has seen reports on the test preparations. The flight test is expected later this month, the officials said.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
Disclosure of the Iranian missile-test preparations follows the announcement last week by President Clinton that he would not authorize deployment of a national missile defense system. The president said developmental problems and opposition from foreign governments were the reason for holding up deployment plans.
The intelligence officials said Mr. Khatami was scheduled to attend a meeting during the U.N. summit hosted by Chinese President Jiang Zemin that President Clinton would attend. The White House said yesterday, however, that the president would not be at any meetings with the Iranian leader.
On Wednesday, Mr. Khatami met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed strategic cooperation between the two countries. Moscow has been a major source of technology and materials for Iran's missiles, despite years of U.S. protests over the assistance.
The officials said the preparations for the latest Shahab-3 flight test followed the successful test launch July 15. Pentagon officials said that test showed Iran is stepping up efforts to develop long-range missiles.
The Shahab-3 has an estimated range of about 800 miles, enough to hit most nations in the region, including Israel and areas where U.S. military forces are based, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The missile is based on the design of the North Korean Nodong medium-range missile, which has a range of about 620 miles.
U.S. intelligence officials told The Times earlier this year that Iran purchased 12 missile engines for the Shahab-3 from North Korea in November. A senior CIA official told Congress in February the engines are critical components for the Shahab-3.
Because its accuracy is limited, the Pentagon views the Shahab-3 as a medium-range strategic missile capable of carrying high-explosive or chemical or biological warheads.
Iran does not possess nuclear warheads but is suspected of working on a covert program to develop them for its missiles.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in July that the Shahab-3 is part of Tehran's strategic deterrent against Israel's nuclear missiles.
Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun last year that "a considerable number" of Shahab-3s are deployed. He denied Iran is building a longer-range Shahab-4 and insisted all more capable rockets will be used for space launches.
The Shahab missile series is mentioned frequently by U.S. intelligence agencies as a key reason for developing a national missile defense system. Iranian officials publicly have mentioned longer-range range systems dubbed Shahab-4 and Shahab-5. U.S. officials have said those missiles are intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said shortly after the July flight test that the launch showed the Iranians have made significant strides in mastering the basics of ballistic missiles. He said more tests of the Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 are expected.
"It is one of the reasons why it is important for the United States to undertake to research, develop and eventually deploy an NMD system that would provide protection against countries such as Iran posing a threat to the United States," Mr. Cohen said. NMD is the Pentagon's term for National Missile Defense.
With several tests, missile development programs accelerate "almost exponentially once you get some of the fundamentals down," he said.
"I think there is absolutely the potential to accelerate development with each successful test," Mr. Cohen said.
Kenneth Timmerman, publisher of the investigative newsletter Iran Brief, said it would be unusual for the Iranian military to act in support of Mr. Khatami. The Iranian military favors Islamic fundamentalist hard-liners in the Iranian government who have clashed with Mr. Khatami over his reform-oriented policies, he said.
"It sounds to me like the Iranian regime is eager not to embarrass the business community, particularly the oil industry, who they see as their primary ally in getting sanctions lifted," Mr. Timmerman said.
Michael Eisenstadt, a specialist on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said flight tests are designed to improve the accuracy of the missile and to work out technical problems. The delay could be either "political or technical," he said.
"Politics within the Iranian military are very complicated," he said.
Mr. Eisenstadt said Iran's missile and weapons-of-mass-destruction programs are run by the Revolutionary Guards, whose leaders are allied with anti-Khatami conservatives but whose rank-and-file soldiers support Khatami.
A 1998 report by a special commission on missile threats headed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated that Iran is placing "extraordinary emphasis" on building missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Tehran could produce an ICBM "within five years of a decision to proceed," the report said.
An Iranian Defense Ministry official told Radio Tehran in announcing the July test that it was needed to "verify its compliance with international standards." The official announcement was criticized by some Iranian press commentators who called for greater secrecy to avoid attracting international criticism.

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