James Hider and Tim Reid – Times Online December 16, 2009
Iran said today that it had successfully tested an upgraded, long-range missile capable of hitting Israel and US targets in the Gulf, further stoking tensions in the Middle East and prompting a call from Gordon Brown for stricter sanctions.
In a terse, one-sentence announcement, Iranian state television said the Sejil-2 missile, a solid-fuel rocket with a range of 1,200 miles, had been successfully test fired. "It hit the defined target," state television said, giving no further details.
The extended range puts not only targets across the Middle East within striking distance but reaches as far as southeastern Europe. The new missile is also believed to have greater accuracy than previous models, which were also capable of hitting Iran’s arch-foe Israel.
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 further on sanctions.” He said that he had spoken to Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, about the missile test. "We will treat this with the seriousness it deserves."
The test came a day after the US House of Representatives backed a Bill to impose sanctions on foreign companies that help supply gasoline to Iran in a bid to pressure Iran to back down over its controversial nuclear programme.
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 provide the delivery system for such a device. Israel considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its very existence, after President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad called for the Jewish state to be eliminated.
As a solid-fuel missile, the Sejil-2 is more accurate than liquid fuelled rockets. Iran has threatened to bomb Israel’s civilian nuclear reactors if the Jewish state launches a military strike to disable the Iranian nuclear programme, something Israel has refused to rule out should international sanctions fail to have any effect.
Iran is already under three sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend enrichment. It risks further sanctions after Tehran rejected a UN-brokered deal to send its low enriched uranium abroad to be further refined into fuel for a research reactor.
Sejil means means "baked clay" in Persian, a reference to a Koranic verse in which God sends birds to drive away attackers from the Muslim holy city of Mecca by bombarding them with stones of baked clay.
Today's test came as the US said it would investigate a report in The Times
that Iran had been working on a trigger for a nuclear weapon.
The Obama Administration said yesterday that it was investigating work on a trigger — one of the final stages in the production of the atomic bomb.
Philip Crowley, the US State Department spokesman, said: “It’s safe to say the United States Government will be investigating... the revelations this week about nuclear triggers.” He praised the report in The Times
, calling it a “fine piece of journalism”.
Mr Crowley’s comments come as the US and its European allies enter a more aggressive phase in their attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A concerted effort will continue into next year to have a tough new set of UN sanctions against Tehran, something that can happen only with the co-operation of China and Russia, who have veto power as permanent members of the Security Council.
The revelations about the nuclear trigger 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.
The documents reveal that Iran has worked on a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion.
A senior US official told The Times
that if the documents prove to be authentic they underscored the need for new sanctions against Iran. #
“The revelations that work has been done [on a nuclear trigger] do add a sense of urgency and these revelations certainly don’t hurt,” the official said.
Iran dismissed the report in The Times
as a “scenario” hatched by Western powers. “Some countries are angry that our people defend their nuclear rights,” Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said. He added that when Western powers “want to pressure us they craft such scenarios, which is unacceptable”.
The secret reports detailed an Iranian plan to test whether the trigger device worked without leaving traces of uranium that the outside world could detect.
Iran insists that its nuclear technology is for peaceful civilian use — a claim that the West rejects.
Its uranium enrichment work is at the centre of fears about the programme because the process that makes the nuclear fuel can also be used to make the fissile core of an atomic bomb.
Israel, which views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat, made clear this week that its patience with diplomacy was wearing thin and that the option of using military force was “on the table”, as Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, said on Monday.
Major-General Amos Yadlin, the Israeli military intelligence chief, said that Iran was close to a technological breakthrough that would enable it to build nuclear weapons.
The countdown on Iran’s nuclear technology clock “has almost finished ticking”, General Yadlin declared in a speech at Tel Aviv University. UN monitors have confirmed that Iran has generated enough low-enriched uranium to build a Bomb if it were enriched to military grade.
Mr Barak said that there was still time for diplomacy but that time was running out. “There is a need for tough sanctions, something that is well and coherently co-ordinated to include Americans, the EU, the Chinese, the Russians [and] the Indians.”He warned “all players not to remove any options from the table”, adding: “We do not remove it.”
Tehran is already under three sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend enrichment. The West, led by the Obama Administration, wants a further round after Iran rejected a UN-brokered deal to send its lowenriched uranium abroad to be refined into fuel for a civilian research reactor.
In Washington senior officials concede that President Obama’s efforts to engage Iran diplomatically have been rebuffed and that the time for such efforts is coming to an end.
One of the greatest challenges next year for Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, will be persuading Russia and China to back new sanctions against Iran.
Russia has economic links with Tehran — it is, among other things, its greatest supplier of nuclear technology — and China has significant financial investment in Iran. Both are aware that they have significant leverage over the US when it comes to negotiations about the Iranian nuclear programme.
Last updated 17/12/2009