New Iranian missile able to reach Europe

IRAN has developed a ballistic missile capable of reaching south-east Europe, hundreds of miles further than previous rockets, the country claimed yesterday.

Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani said the new missiles had a range of 1,250 miles.

His claim came amid increasing tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, with the Iranian parliament drafting a bill to force the government to resume uranium enrichment and the United States rejecting talk of offering the country incentives to keep its programme peaceful.

"Now we have the power to launch a missile with a 2,000km range," the news agency IRNA quoted Mr Rafsanjani as saying. "Iran is determined to improve its military capabilities."

Mr Rafsanjani told a meeting of the Aerospace Research Institute in Tehran: "If the Americans attack Iran, the world will change ... they will not dare to make such a mistake. Experts know that a country that possesses this can obtain all subsequent stages [in missile production]."

Mr Rafsanjani did not elaborate, but appeared to be saying that Iran can make missiles of any range it requires.

His statement came days after Iran said it had added a "strategic missile" to its arsenal after a successful test.

Tehran says its missiles are for defensive purposes and would be used to counter a possible Israeli or US strike against its nuclear facilities.

In recent months, Iranian officials have frequently trumpeted their ability to strike back at any aggressor, and in August they announced they had successfully tested an upgraded version of the medium-range Shahab-3 missile.

Military experts say the unmodified Shahab-3 had a range of 810 miles, which would allow it to strike anywhere in Israel. Shahab means meteor in Persian.

The defence minister, Ali Shamkhani, said last month that a new "strategic missile" had recently been delivered to the armed forces, but did not give its range.

Israel has long accused Iran of working on a long-range missile, the Shahab-4, which would be able to reach Europe. Iran denies any plans to build a Shahab-4 missile.

Tehran recently announced plans to launch its own satellite into space next year. Military experts say a satellite launch rocket could easily be adapted for military purposes.

"We are very happy that our defence ministry will take us to the stage that we are able to use independent satellite technology in the fields of building, launching, positioning and receiving," Mr Rafsanjani said.

Iranian state radio said yesterday that Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament has prepared a bill to force the government to resume uranium enrichment, a process that can be used for making an atomic bomb.

Parliament’s foreign affairs and national security commission approved the draft which calls on the government to continue developing a civilian nuclear programme, which Washington says is a cover for the making of nuclear bombs.

"This bill obliges the government to seek peaceful nuclear technology, including the control of nuclear fuel cycle," the radio station quoted Kazem Jalali, spokesman of the commission, as saying.

The bill reflects a new political climate in Iran, where religious hard-liners now firmly have the upper hand over the pro-reform allies of moderate president Mohammad Khatami since conservatives won parliamentary polls in February.

Government officials have said Iran will have no choice but to resume uranium enrichment should parliament approve the bill.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has urged Iran to abandon uranium enrichment and has threatened to take action if Tehran continues to defy its call. Washington wants Iran sent to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is solely geared to producing atomic power, not bombs. However, the combination of resumption of nuclear enrichment and the new missiles will further raise the temperature in the stand-off with the US and Europe.

The bill, which politicians say has been backed by 238 out of parliament’s 290 members, will be discussed by the full house in the coming days. If passed as expected, it has to be approved by the guardian council, a hard-line overseeing body, before becoming law.

"This bill will surely be passed. It is our right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the commission.

International pressure forced Iran last year to agree to snap checks of its nuclear sites and to halt the enrichment of uranium. But while Iran has not enriched any uranium, it has begun processing raw uranium to prepare it for enrichment.

Mr Boroujerdi claims that Iran has been trying to assure the international community about its nuclear ambitions by allowing "anytime and anywhere" inspections by the IAEA.

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