By Zahra Hosseinian
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran said it test-fired a new generation of surface-to-surface missile on Wednesday and that the Islamic Republic was ready to defend itself against any attacker.
Iran’s latest missile test followed persistent speculation in recent months of possible U.S. or Israeli strikes against its nuclear facilities, which the West suspects form part of a covert atomic weapons program, a charge Tehran denies.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, like outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, has not ruled out military action although he has criticized the Bush administration for not pursuing more diplomacy and engagement with Tehran.
Washington said the test highlighted the need for a missile defense system it plans to base in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter threats from what it calls “rogue states.”
Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the Iranian-made surface-to-surface Sejil missile had “extremely high capabilities” and was only intended for defensive purposes.
He said it had a range of close to 2,000 km (1,200 miles), almost as far as another Iranian missile, Shahab 3. That would enable it to reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf.
“This missile test is in the framework of Iran’s deterrent doctrine,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
“It will only land on the heads of those enemies … who want to make an aggression and invade the Islamic Republic,” said Najjar, who did not mention any country by name.
Iran’s English-language Press TV said the Sejil missile had two stages and was of a type that used combined solid fuel.
A missile was shown soaring from a platform in desert-like terrain, leaving a long vapor trail.
It came a day after media said the Revolutionary Guards had test-fired another missile called Samen near the Iraqi border.
“They do it all the time. It’s Iranian machismo,” said Tim Ripley, an analyst at Jane’s Defence Weekly.
Two stages could increase a missile’s range, he said, noting that Iran had in the past borrowed technology from North Korea although he said he could not say if that was true this time.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build atomic bombs, while Iran says it only aims to generate electricity.
Iran has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests and America’s ally Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for world oil supplies.
The United States is planning to install a defensive shield in central Europe against missiles it says could be fired by states such as Iran.
“We’ve consistently pointed out that Iran’s missile program is a concern and this testing is another reminder of the importance of establishing a missile defense site in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend the U.S. and Europe against a threat that is developing in Iran,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
Moscow on Wednesday rejected U.S. proposals intended to allay its concerns about the system.
Senior officials from the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany were due to meet in Paris on Thursday to discuss their next steps in their nuclear showdown with Iran.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, told a provincial rally Iran would defeat its enemies.
“The Iranian nation defends its honor and whichever power that wants to stand against the movement of the Iranian nation, the Iranian nation will crush it under its foot and slap it on the mouth,” he said in a speech broadcast live on television.
Last week, Iran’s military said U.S. helicopters had been seen flying close to Iran’s border and that it would respond to any violation, a message analysts said seemed directed at Obama more than American troops in Iraq.
It followed a cross-border raid in October by U.S. forces into Syria, a move that was condemned by Damascus and Tehran.
(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Washington and Edmund Blair; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Trevelyan in Reuters)