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Iran's missile test angers the West

At home, the government threatens leaders of the reform movement with arrest.

December 17, 2009|By Ramin Mostaghim

Reporting from Tehran — Iranian authorities confronted their international and domestic rivals Wednesday, angering the West by testing a high-speed missile and raising political tensions at home by warning reformist opposition leaders they could be arrested.

Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's defense minister, lauded the latesttest-firing of the Sejil-2 surface-to-surface missile, which was broadcast on television in Iran.

He praised the upgraded version of the missile for "its remarkable speed in entering the atmosphere, its strong impact and its radar-evading covers," and for its quick blastoff time, state television reported.

"God is great, God is great, God is great," Vahidi chanted as the rocket took off.

The U.S. and its allies reacted strongly to the test, widely interpreted as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that call on Tehran to curb its nuclear research and ballistic missile programs, which the West fears are cornerstones for an eventual atomic weapons arsenal.

Iran, which insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, has been refining its missile technology for years, occasionally conducting tests that rattle the West. It tested an earlier version of the Sejil-2 in May.

White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said such tests "undermine claims of peaceful intentions" regarding Iran's nuclear program, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the launch made the case "for us moving further on sanctions," news agencies reported.

"A test of this kind can only strengthen the international community's worries at a time that Iran is also developing a nuclear program with no identifiable civil objective in violation of five United Nations Security Council resolutions," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, according to Agence France-Presse.

The two-stage, solid-fuel, medium-range Sejil-2 is considered more accurate than the liquid-fuel missiles Iran has fired in the past. Iranian analysts say the upgraded version includes mobile launch platforms that make it difficult to target by airstrike.

With a range of 1,200 miles, the missile can easily strike Iran's regional nemesis, Israel, about 600 miles to the west, and the even closer U.S. bases along the Persian Gulf. But Vahidi said the missile, which he boasted had been designed and produced by Iranian military experts at his ministry's Aerospace Organization, was meant solely to defend Iran.

"The missile test we observed today was only a link in our defense chain aimed at boosting our armed forces deterrence," he said.

Separately, Iran's judiciary chief told a group of prosecutors and judges that authorities would begin taking a harder line with leaders of the opposition movement, threatening them with arrest. Protests sprang out of Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election.

"I'm telling the leaders of postelection conspiracy that the judiciary has enough evidence against you," said Sadegh Larijani, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency.

Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, reformists who ran unsuccessfully against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June, have asked their supporters to remain on high alert in case they are arrested.

Larijani warned that the "leaders of conspiracy" were following in the footsteps of the Mujahedin Khalq, an outlawed militant group cast out of Iran's political establishment.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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