Iran claims 2,000-mile range on missile

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Iran has reported a breakthrough in its intermediate-range missile program.

For the first time, Iran has claimed a capability to develop and produce a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers. The breakthrough was said to have been part of the enhanced Shihab-3 program, also known as the Shihab-4.

"Now we have the power to launch a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers," former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a leading aide to Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, said. "And experts know that once a country has made such a step, all further steps are accessible."

Israeli and U.S. officials said the reference was to Iran's program to develop a series of multi-stage, intermediate- and long-range missiles. The officials said Iran was planning to assemble the Shihab-5 missile, with a range of 5,500 kilometers and the intercontinental Shihab-6, with a range of up to 10,000 kilometers.

In an address to a space and security conference in Teheran, Rafsanjani said the success in extending the range of Iranian missiles marked a watershed in the nation's strategic programs. He said the breakthrough would allow Iran to launch satellites into space.

"We have today the ballistic technology and if we had not limited our progress, we would have been even more advanced," Rafsanjani was quoted by the official Iranian news agency, Irna, as saying on Tuesday. "With this ballistic power, we can today speak of an independent satellite launch and we should seek the technology to make our own satellites."

In Washington, the State Department refused to confirm whether Iran has acquired the capability to develop a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers. But U.S. intelligence sources said the enhanced Shihab-3 shown in an Aug. 11 Iranian television broadcast indicated such a capability.

"Iran has been in the late stages of developing the Shihab-3 medium-range ballistic missile and has been working on longer range systems," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "These kinds of long-range missiles which have been the subject of reports has been an active area of Iranian weapons development for some time, has been a concern of ours for some time."

Earlier, Iran said it would launch the experimental Mesbah telecommunications satellite into space around March 2005. Western intelligence sources said this could mark the first full flight of the enhanced Shihab-3, also referred to as the Shihab-4.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran, thanks to its specialized forces, is on the brink of entering the club of those countries with independent satellite technology," Rafsanjani said. "We must plan for a deep-rooted and enduring movement in this field in Iran."

Over the last year, Iran has reported steady progress in the Shihab-3 program. In June 2003, the Shihab-3 achieved a range of 1,380 kilometers.

Months later, Iran said its Shihab-3 could travel 1,700 kilometers.

In his address, Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council, said Iran began its intermediate-range program after the 1980-88 war with Iraq. He acknowledged that the missile program was hampered by difficulties.

"Today by relying on our defense industry capabilities, we have been able to increase our deterrent capacity against the military expansion of regional enemies," Rafsanjani said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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