The Times: Western governments united to denounce Iran’s test-firing of a long-range ballistic missile yesterday, warning that it would only increase international determination to press for more sanctions on Tehran if it refused to negotiate over its nuclear programme.
Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent and James Hider, Middle East Correspondent
Western governments united to denounce Iran’s test-firing of a long-range ballistic missile yesterday, warning that it would only increase international determination to press for more sanctions on Tehran if it refused to negotiate over its nuclear programme.
Gordon Brown led the call for stricter sanctions, calling the missile test a cause for serious concern that drew further into question Iran’s professed peaceful intentions over its nuclear programme.
The United States, France and Germany joined in the condemnation. Germany called the test alarming, and France described it as “a very bad signal to the international community”.
The first test of an improved version of the Sejil-2 missile, which is capable of reaching Israel and US bases in the Gulf, was reported early yesterday in a one-sentence announcement on Iranian state television, accompanied by a clip showing the missile rising from the launch pad in a cloud of smoke. “The missile hit its intended target,” the announcement said.
The extended range of 1,200 miles puts not only targets across the Middle East within striking distance but also reaches southeastern Europe. The new solid-fuel missile is also believed to have greater accuracy than previous models, which were capable of hitting Israel.
“Sejil” means means “baked clay” in Farsi, a reference to a Koranic verse in which God sends birds to drive away attackers from Mecca by bombarding them with stones of baked clay.
General Ahmad Vahidi, the Iranian Defence Minister, vowed that the new, faster version of the missile would be a “strong deterrent” against any foreign attack. “Given its high speed it is impossible to destroy the missile with anti-missile systems because of its radar-evading ability,” he said.
Israel, which has repeatedly threatened to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, declined to comment on the test.
Mr Brown, who is attending the climate conference in Copenhagen, said: “This is a matter of serious concern to the international community and it does make the case for us moving farther on sanctions.”
The Prime Minister said that he had spoken to Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, about the Iranian missile test. “We will treat this with the seriousness it deserves,” he added.
In Washington Mike Hammer, the National Security Council spokesman, said: “At a time when the international community has offered Iran opportunities to begin to build trust and confidence, Iran’s missile tests only undermine Iran’s claims of peaceful intentions. Such actions will increase the seriousness and resolve of the international community to hold Iran accountable for its continued defiance of its international obligations on its nuclear programme.”
The test came a day after the US House of Representatives backed a Bill to impose sanctions on foreign companies that help to supply petrol to Iran to try to pressure it to back down over its nuclear programme.
The US, Britain, France and Germany hope to persuade Russia and China to back punishing new sanctions at the UN Security Council if Iran does not show signs of willingness to answer international concerns over its intentions. They have given Iran until the end of the year to prove its good faith.
The US and its allies fear that Iran is covertly developing the technology to produce a nuclear weapon, and fear that its long-range missiles could be used to deliver them.
Israel considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its very existence after President Ahmadinejad called for it to be eliminated, and has repeatedly threatened to take military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, a move most Western countries are desperate to avert. Israel has refused to rule out an attack should international sanctions against Iran fail to have the desired effect.
Iran has threatened to bomb Israel’s civilian nuclear reactors if it is attacked. It has also threatened to impose a crippling naval blockade around the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran is already under three sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. It risks further sanctions after Tehran rejected a UN-brokered deal to send partly enriched uranium abroad to be further refined into fuel for a research reactor.
The test of the Sejil-2 came as the US said that it would investigate a report in The Times that Iran had been working on a trigger for a nuclear weapon, citing it as part of a growing pattern of Iran’s deception over its nuclear programme.
The revelations were contained in confidential intelligence documents that were obtained by The Times and which foreign intelligence agencies date to early 2007 — four years after US agencies assessed that Iran had suspended efforts to produce nuclear weapons.