Reuters: Iran test-fired missiles on Sunday to show it was prepared to head off any military threat, four days before the Islamic Republic is due to hold rare talks with world powers worried about its nuclear ambitions. By Fredrik Dahl and Hossein Jaseb
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran test-fired missiles on Sunday to show it was prepared to head off any military threat, four days before the Islamic Republic is due to hold rare talks with world powers worried about its nuclear ambitions.
The missile maneuvers coincide with escalating tension in Iran's nuclear row with the West, after last week's disclosure by Tehran that it is building a second uranium enrichment plant.
News of the nuclear facility south of Iran added a sense of urgency to a crucial meeting in Geneva on Thursday between Iranian officials and representatives of six major powers, including the United States.
An Iranian official warned "fabricated Western clamor" over the new plant would negatively affect the talks at which the six powers want Iran to agree to open its facilities to inspection to prove its programme is for power and not nuclear weapons.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's IAEA envoy, said, referring to the six powers' concern over the new plant: "This Western approach will have a negative impact on Iran's negotiations with the 5+1 countries."
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday the discovery of the secret nuclear plant in Iran showed a "disturbing pattern" of evasion by Tehran that added urgency to its talks on Thursday with world powers.
Obama warned Iran on Friday it would face "sanctions that bite" if it did not come clean.
Earlier this month, Obama dropped a Bush-era plan to deploy missiles in Poland that had been proposed as a shield amid concerns Iran was trying to develop nuclear warheads it could mount on long-range missiles.
Iran's missile firepower "gives us the possibility to confront every kind of threat with a long-lasting defense deterrence," Iranian General Hossein Salami said on Sunday.
"The message of this maneuver is for some domineering countries whose intention is to create fear, to say that we are able to come up with an appropriate response to their enmity with high speed and precision," Salami, head of the Guards' air force, said on the Guards' website.
Iran conducts war games or tests weapons to show its determination to counter attack by foes such as Israel or the United States.
The Revolutionary Guards launched at least two different types of short-range missiles on the exercise's first day and also tested a multiple missile launcher, Iranian media said.
State radio said the Guards on Monday would test-fire the Shahab 3 missile, which Iranian officials say has a range of around 2,000 km, potentially putting Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf within reach. It was last tested in mid-2008.
State television showed footage of missiles soaring into the sky in desert-like terrain, leaving vapor trails.
English-language Press TV said the weapons tested on Sunday included a ground-to-ground missile and a naval missile, naming them as Fateh (Victorious) and Tondar (Thunder).
The Guards said "the drill aims to maintain and boost the country's armed forces deterrent capabilities," Press TV said.
The United States, which suspects Iran is seeking to build nuclear bombs, has previously expressed concern about Tehran's missile programme. Iran says its nuclear work is solely for peaceful power generation purposes.
Neither the United States nor its ally Israel have ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear row.
Iran has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for world oil supplies.
Iran acknowledged the existence of the enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom for the first time on Monday to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
U.S. officials said the disclosure was designed to pre-empt an announcement by Western governments, which were aware of the site, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the plant was legal and open for inspection by the IAEA.
A senior U.S. administration official said the six powers were preparing "a set of transparency demands" focused on the uranium enrichment plant near Qom.
"Those demands include unfettered access for the IAEA to the Qom facility, the people working there, and timelines related to its development," the official said.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he would discuss Iran's nuclear plans with Ahmadinejad in Tehran next month, but urged caution over new sanctions.
He said any attempt to impose sanctions on Tehran's gas industry, Iran has the world's second largest natural gas reserves, would be problematic for its neighbor Turkey.
He said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was expected to visit Iran on October 1 — the same day the Iranian delegation meets the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany for talks in Geneva.