- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

Iran fired medium-missiles Monday capable of hitting Israel, U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf and areas of Europe in a new show of defiance before nuclear negotiations Thursday with the United States and other world powers.

Two U.S. counterproliferation officials confirmed Iranian media reports of the tests, which followed an Iranian barrage of short-range rockets on Sunday. The officials spoke on condition that they not be named because they were discussing intelligence information.

One official said the U.S. was “looking into whether Iran has also test fired long-range missiles” capable of hitting Europe but said that “we’re not able to confirm long-range missile tests at this time.”

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Iran tests missile after nuke disclosure

The disclosure by Iranian state television of the missile tests followed President Obama’s revelation Friday that Iran has a second facility to enrich uranium hidden near the Iranian theological center of Qom on a military base. The U.S., China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain are to discuss Iran’s nuclear program with Iran on Thursday in Geneva and demand full access to the site for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“They’re trying to puff themselves up and show that they have spikes and cannot be taken lightly,” said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which seeks nuclear disarmament.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Iran’s “preplanned military exercises” fit into a pattern of provocation and that the U.S. hopes Iran will change course, “engage in full transparency” and “give up its nuclear weapons program.”

“They can continue the path that they’ve been on … or they can make a decision to step away from its nuclear weapons program and enter into a meaningful relationship with the world,” he said. Mr. Gibbs said agreeing to “immediate, unfettered access” to their nuclear facilities is “the least that they can do.”

Mr. Cirincione said the Iranian government might also be acting for domestic purposes, to reassure its conservative base that Iran can defend itself and negotiate successfully with Western powers. The regime has been rattled by the disclosure of the second enrichment site as well as continuing protests following disputed June 12 presidential elections.

Iranian state television said that the Revolutionary Guards, an elite force that contols Iran’s missile and nuclear programs, ended two days of war games by successfully testing the Shahab-3 and Sajjil solid fuel-powered rockets. Both can travel up to 1,200 miles, which would put Israel, U.S. bases in the Middle East and parts of southern Europe within range.

The surface-to-surface Sajjil is a new, two-stage missile using solid fuel, which provides more accurate delivery than liquid fuel rockets and offers the potential for longer ranges.

“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. His comments were reported by Associated Press.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said the tests were routine and planned in advance, AP added.

Western officials condemned the launches.

The French foreign ministry called on Iran “to choose the path of cooperation rather than confrontation, by immediately ceasing these deeply destabilising activities.”

“This sends the wrong signal to the international community” in advance of Thursday’s talks, Britain’s Foreign Office said.

Iran previously tested the Sajjil-2 in May.

Barbara Slavin contributed to this report from Washington.

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