Iran Test Fires Missile

TEHRAN, Iran —  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran test-fired a new advanced missile with a range capable of reaching Israel and U.S. Mideast bases, sending a provocative message days after President Barack Obama pressured Tehran to accept his offer for a dialogue.


The U.S. has criticized Iran's missile development and said such launches stoke instability in the Middle East.
The solid-fuel Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface missile tested has a range of about 1,200 miles, far enough to strike at southeastern Europe. It is a new version of the Sajjil missile, which Iran said it had successfully tested late last year with a similar range. Many analysts said the launch of the Sajjil was significant because solid fuel missiles are more accurate than liquid fuel missiles of similar range, such as Iran's Shahab-3.

"Defense Minister (Mostafa Mohammad Najjar) has informed me that the Sajjil-2 missile, which has very advanced technology, was launched from Semnan and it landed precisely on the target," state radio quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. He spoke during a visit to the city of Semnan, 125 miles east of the capital Tehran, where Iran's space program is centered.

Ahmadinejad is running for re-election in a June 12 vote and has been criticized by his opponents and others for antagonizing the U.S. and mismanaging the country's faltering economy. Iran said Wednesday that its constitutional watchdog has approved three prominent candidates to challenge Ahmadinejad, setting up a showdown between reformists and hard-liners.

Iran's nuclear and missile programs have alarmed Israel. The country's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pressed Obama to step up pressure on Tehran when the two met in Washington on Monday. Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the Iranian missile launch.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel's elimination, and the Jewish state has not ruled out a military strike to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

After he met Netanyahu, Obama declared a readiness to seek deeper international sanctions against Iran if it shunned U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. The American president said he expected a positive response to his outreach for opening a dialogue with Iran by the end of the year. So far, the Obama administration has received a mixed response from Ahmadinejad.

In Washington, the White House had no immediate response to the purported missile test.

Most Western analysts believe Iran does not yet have the technology to produce nuclear weapons, including warheads for long-range missiles. The U.S. released an intelligence report about 18 months ago that said Iran abandoned a secret nuclear weapons program in 2003 under international pressure and has not restarted it.
Israel and several other countries have disputed the finding, but many in the West at least agree that Iran is seeking to develop the capability to develop weapons at some point. A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued Tuesday that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that.

The study published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles "in perhaps six to eight years."

Iran says its missile program is merely for defense and its space program is for scientific and surveillance purposes. It maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian energy uses only.

After the testing of the Sajjil in November, a senior U.S. military official said Washington believed Iran was testing the first stage of what would be a two-stage rocket. Multiple stages allow long-range missiles to use less fuel.

Ahmadinejad touted the launch in the final weeks of a presidential campaign that could influence Iran's response to the U.S. outreach. Two of the three candidates approved by Iran's constitutional watchdog to run in the June election are reformists who favor improving ties with the West.

Hard-liners have used the Guardian Council in the past to block reformist candidates, but Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi were likely too high-profile to reject. The watchdog also approved a well known conservative candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, a former leader of Iraq's elite Revolutionary Guards who has joined his reformist competitors in criticizing Ahmadinejad for mismanaging Iran's economy.

The group rejected 471 other candidates who wanted to run, including illiterate peasants, a 12-year-old boy and 42 women, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Reformists, who believe they have a strong chance of defeating Ahmadinejad, have criticized the president for spending an inordinate amount of time and energy slamming the West. They say his behavior has isolated Iran and believe he should have focused on battling rising unemployment and inflation in the country.

Mousavi, a former prime minister who is seen as the leading challenger to Ahmadinejad, has said he would reshape Iran's policies and restore the country's dignity.
 
 
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