Iran test-fires new missile as sanctions loom

Gordon Brown condemns weapon that puts Israel within easy range
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The Independent Online

Iran test-fired the latest version of its long-range Sajjil-2 missile yesterday, delivering a blunt message that it is ready to retaliate should Israel, the United States or anyone else attempt a military strike against its nuclear enrichment facilities.

Images of the launch were shown on state television. Defence Minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, said that the new missile would be a "strong deterrent" against a possible attack. The missiles are capable of travelling 1,200 miles, putting Israel within reach, as well as US bases in the Gulf region and parts of Turkey and south-east Europe.

The firing drew a strong rebuke from the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who was attending the climate change talks in Copenhagen. "This is a matter of serious concern to the international community and it does make the case for us moving further on sanctions. We will treat this with the seriousness it deserves," he said after talks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The White House said Iran was running out of time to head off international sanctions for not complying with the West's demands over its nuclear programme, Reuters reported. White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said Iran still had time to live up to its international obligations and that "if they don't, time will run out" and Western powers will move to the "next step".

Diplomats expect Iran's continuing defiance to become the focus of bilateral talks between leaders at the Copenhagen forum, which President Barack Obama will visit on Friday. In recent days, the US, France and Britain have all publicly advertised their impatience with Iran's position and their readiness to begin work immediately on a fourth round of sanctions against it at the UN Security Council.

Attempts since September to cajole Iran into accepting a deal under which it would agree to export low-enriched uranium to foreign countries for further processing into fuel for civilian energy generation have proceeded in fits and starts, with Iran at first agreeing to the regime and then stepping back from it. Mr Obama has repeatedly said that Iran has until the end of this year to show it is serious about a negotiated deal. For its part, however, Tehran continues to insist that developing an atomic industry is its sovereign right and that the research is aimed only at civil energy generation and has nothing to do with weapons.

Iran has a long history of provocation with missile launches and similar threats just as the stakes in international negotiations are at their most delicate. It test-fired a shorter-range missile and an earlier version of the Sajjil as the current talks began in September. Although probably designed in part to make Israel think twice before choosing a military option, this latest display may galvanise members of the Security Council to move quickly to new sanctions.

As that process gets under way immediately in the new year, the US and Britain will be looking in particular for support for new sanctions from Russia and China. Mr Obama has been diligently lobbying both countries on the importance of containing Iran's nuclear ambitions before it is too late.