U.S. WILL DEFEND ITS ALLIES, RICE WARNS IRAN
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ and WILLIAM J. BROAD
(EDS: expands by 200 words incorporating reaction from Israel and perspective from GlobalSecurity.org; now an A1 refer; nu double byline and modified contributor line.)
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Michael Schwirtz reported from Moscow, and William J. Broad from New York. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.
c.2008 New York Times News Service
MOSCOW — The confrontation between Iran and the United States seemed to sharpen Thursday as Iran said it tested missiles for a second day and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would defend its allies and protect its interests against an attack.
Rice was speaking in the former Soviet republic of Georgia at the end of a three-day tour of Eastern Europe. Shortly after she spoke, state-run media in Iran began reporting the new missile tests, which it said included a relatively new torpedo.
Iranian state television showed a missile blasting off in darkness, trailed by a fiery exhaust plume. The television reports said the new tests took place Wednesday night and into Thursday. A commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had said earlier that night missile maneuvers would take place but did not give details.
"Deep in the Persian Gulf waters, the launch of different types of ground-to-sea, surface-to-surface, sea-to-air and the powerful launch of the Hoot missile successfully took place," Iranian state radio said, referring to the torpedo whose name means whale in Iranian. The latest tests came a day after Iran said it test-fired nine missiles, including one that Tehran said had the range to strike Israel.
At a news conference in Georgia with President Mikheil Saakashvili, Rice said, "We will defend our interests and defend our allies."
She also said, "We take very, very strongly our obligations to defend our allies and no one should be confused of that."
The remarks came amid increasingly tense exchanges between Iran and the United States over Iran’s civilian nuclear program, which Washington and many Western governments have warned could be used to cloak the development of a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran has repeatedly denied. The Bush administration has refused to rule out a military option, and last month Israel’s air force rehearsed what U.S. intelligence officials described as a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Israel has vowed to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and on Thursday it joined the battle of words, according to Reuters. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that he favored diplomatic pressure and sanctions, but that, "Israel is the strongest country in the region and has proved in the past it is not afraid to take action when its vital security interests are at stake."
Adding to the tensions, this week the United States and the Czech Republic signed an accord to allow the Pentagon to deploy part of its contentious anti-ballistic missile shield, which Washington maintains is intended to protect in part against Iranian missiles.
Meanwhile, American and British warships are engaged in maneuvers in the Persian Gulf. A private group of scientists in the United States interpreted the situation as a battle of exaggeration waged by both the Iranians and the Bush administration, Iran overstating the strength of its missiles and the United States overstating the need for missile defenses.
"Iran frequently exaggerates the capability of its missiles, and it appears it is continuing that tradition with this week’s tests," said David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Meanwhile, the Bush administration is using Iran’s missile tests to promote the U.S. anti-missile system in Eastern Europe that has never been shown to work in a real-world situation."
Wright said that the range of Iran’s biggest missiles appeared to be significantly less than Tehran routinely claimed.
Charles P. Vick, an expert on the Iranian rocket program at GlobalSecurity.org, a research group in Alexandria, Va., said that what appeared to be two large Shahab missiles lifting off Wednesday within seconds of each other turned out to a Shahab and a Scud-C, the range of which is far less. In a telephone interview on Thursday, he said that Iran seemed to be testing a few new systems, like the Hoot, but mostly clearing out old inventory.
"It’s basically a demonstration of all the weapon systems they bought from Russia, China or North Korea over the last decade," he said.
Iran claimed to have first tested the Hoot in April 2006. A senior military official at the time described the missile as a sonar-evading torpedo capable of traveling about 230 miles per hour, about three times the speed of Western torpedoes. Military analysts have said that the Hoot resembles a Russian rocket-propelled torpedo called the VA-111 Shkval, or Squall, a limited-range weapon used in close-proximity combat.