Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 14:27 UK

Iran tests longest range missiles


Footage from Iran's Press TV shows the Shahab-3 missile being tested

Iran has successfully test-fired some of the longest range missiles in its arsenal, state media say.

The Revolutionary Guards tested the Shahab-3 and Sajjil rockets, which are believed to have ranges of up to 2,000km (1,240 miles), reports said.

The missiles' range could potentially permit them to reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf, analysts say.

The tests come amid heightened tension with the big international powers over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Last week, Iran disclosed it was building a second uranium enrichment plant, despite UN demands that it cease its enrichment activities.

Jon Leyne
Jon Leyne, BBC Tehran correspondent

These missile tests are being carried out as part of Iran's sacred defence week, so they were probably planned some time ago.

Nevertheless the West is likely to see this as a gesture of defiance just days after the latest revelation about Iran's nuclear programme. Iran may not mind too much about that interpretation.

Both the Shahab-3 and the Sajjil are capable of reaching much of the Middle East including Israel.

They make up what is probably Iran's strongest deterrent against any possible attack by Israel or the West.

Iran is due to hold crucial talks with the five UN Security Council members plus Germany on Thursday on a wide range of security issues, including its nuclear programme.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said the missile tests were merely part of an annual military drill, known as Sacred Defence Week, to commemorate its war with Iraq in the 1980s.

It was not a reaction to the nuclear crisis, he added.

"Many countries have these [displays] and it has nothing to do with Iran's peaceful nuclear technology," he told a news conference.

France called on Tehran to immediately stop "these deeply destabilising activities".

In a statement, the foreign ministry urged Iran to co-operate "by responding without delay to the demands of the international community to reach a negotiated settlement on the nuclear question".

But Russia appealed for restraint, saying the world should not "succumb to emotions" in dealing with Iran.

"The main thing is to launch productive negotiations [with Iran]," a foreign ministry source told Interfax news agency.

Gesture of defiance

"An improved version of Shahab-3 and the two-stage Sajjil, powered by solid fuel, were fired," the Guards' air force commander Hossein Salami was quoted as saying by the state-owned Arabic language TV channel al-Alam.

Map of Shahab 3 missile range

Footage of the test-firing of the Shahab-3 in desert terrain was broadcast by another state-owned channel, Press TV.

The Shahab-3 (Meteor-3) is classed as a medium range ballistic missile but is the longest-range rocket Iran has successfully tested in public.

Iran says the missile, which it first tested in July 2008, can fly some 2,000km, although Western defence experts have put the strike range at 1,300km (807 miles).

The surface-to-surface Sajjil is a new, two-stage missile using solid fuel, which is considered to give a more accurate delivery than liquid fuel rockets.

It has been tested by Iran twice, in November 2008 and May 2009.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne says Iran's enemies might be most worried by the test-firing of the Sajjil missile.

It is more advanced, and multiple stage rockets offer the potential for longer ranges, he says.

The Shahab-3 and Sajjil rockets are currently believed to be capable of reaching not only Israel and US bases in the Gulf, but also parts of Europe.

On Sunday, the medium-range Shahab-1 and 2 missiles with a range of 300 to 700km (186 to 434 miles) were tested.

The short-range Tondar-69 and Fateh-110 type, with a range of up to 170km (100 miles), were also tested.

Although the tests are likely to have been planned in advance, Iran will not be unhappy if they are seen as a gesture of defiance by the West, our correspondent adds.

Telecoms move

Iran is under increasing pressure to co-operate fully over its nuclear ambitions - particularly since the revelation of a previously undisclosed uranium enrichment plant.

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi gather in Tehran, 15/06
The Guards now own a key stake in Iran's telecommunications

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has insisted that the plant, near the holy city of Qom, does not breach UN regulations and says it is open for inspection by UN experts.

But leaders of the US, Britain and France accuse Tehran of keeping the plant secret in breach of UN rules.

They have raised the prospect of new, tougher sanctions against Iran if Thursday's meeting with the so-called P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany) yields little progress.

In a separate development, Iranian state media report that a consortium linked to the Revolutionary Guards has bought a majority share in the state telecommunications company.

The Revolutionary Guards led the government response to the street protests that followed the disputed re-election of President Ahmadinejad - himself a former guard - in June.

During the demonstrations, the authorities interrupted mobile phone networks, hindering the opposition movement.

The Revolutionary Guard was set up shortly after the revolution to defend the country's Islamic system.

It has since become a major military, political and economic force, with close ties to the leadership.

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