State television said Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard successfully tested upgraded versions of the medium-range Shahab-3 and Sajjil missiles, the Associated Press reported. Both can carry warheads and reach up to 1,200 miles, far enough to reach Israel, U.S. military bases in the Middle East, and parts of Europe.
The reported military exercise follows accusations from the leaders of France, Britain and the U.S. on Friday that Tehran is hiding the construction of a second uranium-enrichment plant from U.N. nuclear inspectors.
Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force told Iranian media the tests were part of “preventive and defensive operations” and that they were in “no way a threat to neighboring countries,” the Washington Post reported.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry also denied there was a link between the missile tests and the dispute with world powers over disclosure of nuclear facilities, reported Reuters. On Friday, President Barack Obama called Iran’s activities “a direct challenge” to the nuclear nonproliferation regime and said it was time for Tehran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community.
Iranian officials and representatives of six major powers, including the United States, China and Russia, will meet in Geneva Thursday to discuss the nuclear program.
The United States and its allies have warned Iran it must open the newly discovered site to international inspection or face more sanctions. Iran said Saturday it will allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine the site, but European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Monday Iran must immediately resolve issues surrounding the facilities with the U.N.’s nuclear agency.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it is unlikely Iran will be able to convince world power’s its program is for peaceful purposes, according to AP.
“We don’t believe that they can present convincing evidence, that it’s only for peaceful purposes, but we are going to put them to the test,” Clinton told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Meanwhile, the White House is already assembling a possible package of sanctions against Iran.
Cutting off investments to the country’s oil-and-gas industry and adding restrictions to more Iranian banks are among the options being discussed, senior administration officials told the New York Times.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday’s CNN “State of the Union” that there is “still room left for diplomacy” on the matter and down played any military response.
“There is no military option that does anything more than buy time,” he said.
The administration is planning to ask that the site be opened to international inspectors “within weeks,” and that inspectors have access to personnel and documents key to the site’s construction, reported the New York Times.
But not all the members of the United Nations Security Council are likely to quickly support the tough penalties the Obama administration might want for Iran, reported ABC News.
Last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called sanctions unproductive but said they could be inevitable. China has so far appeared to resist being part of sanctions against Tehran, and may dilute any proposed sanctions, reported Reuters.
“On the one hand China knows that relations with the United States and Europe are very important, but on the other hand it has substantial diplomatic, strategic and energy interests in Iran,” Shi Yinhong, professor of International Relations at Renmin University in Beijing, told the news agency.
“China is in the middle ground so it will go some way to meet the West, but less than half way. It will make some criticism and censure of Iran, but this will be very soft.”