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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Iran vows to increase military strength
Shahab-3 missile test, shown on Iranian TV (Archive picture)
The Shahab-3 is capable of reaching Israel
Iran has vowed to increase its military strength at a public display of some of its most advanced weaponry.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami issued the pledge at the show of military prowess near Tehran to commemorate the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980.

Half a dozen of Iran's Shahab-3 missiles, whose range has caused concern in Israel and the United States, were exhibited for the first time since the missiles were deployed to the armed forces in July.

The show of strength came days after the United Nations nuclear watchdog imposed a 31 October deadline on Iran to prove it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

President Khatami said that Iran was against weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arms in particular, but he insisted on its right to develop peaceful technology.

'Destroy Israel'

The sand-coloured Shahab-3s, towed on mobile launchers to rousing military music during the parade, have a range of about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) - capable of reaching Israel, Iran's sworn enemy.

It is also believe that the missile is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The missiles were daubed with slogans including "We will crush America under our feet" and "Israel must be wiped off the map".

President Khatami said it was Israel, not Iran, which threatened the region.

"It is the Zionist regime which possesses a considerable atomic arsenal and uses the worst forms of terrorism in Palestine while we are partisans of peace, stability and a region free of atomic weapons," he said.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran's policy is based on detente," he added, "but we also insist on strengthening our military."

Nuclear response

President Khatami did not refer to the deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but he said that "even if we don't give a pretext to the enemy, they will find one".

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says many hardliners have argued publicly in favour of Iran rejecting the deadline and pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) altogether, as North Korea has done.

Reformists generally prefer the route of compliance, though that is a road that has not been made easy because of overt American pressure, he says.

Our correspondent adds that government officials say that formulating a response to the IAEA deadline is a complex and very delicate business that could still take some time.

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