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France calls Iran's missile tests 'deeply destabilising'

Launch of long-range missiles with a range of up to 2,000km come days before international meeting.

TEHRAN // Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards concluded two days of war games yesterday by successfully test-firing long-range Shahab 3 and Sejil missiles, putting Israel, US bases in the region and even ­Europe within reach. The test-firing drew international criticism as it came before talks on Thursday on the republic's nuclear programme, which the West believes is intended for military purposes. The liquid fuel-optimised Shahab 3 has a range of up to 2,000km and is capable of carrying a warhead of 760 kilogrammes to 1,000kg, Fars News Agency reported. Sejil, a two-stage missile powered by solid fuel, was also tested for the first time yesterday, Hossein Salami, the Revolutionary Guards air force commander, was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency as saying. "All targets within the region, no matter where they are, will be within the range of these missiles," said Brig Gen Salami, according to Sepah News, the Guards' official website. "Iranian armed forces are fully prepared to respond to any foreign threat ? but the Islamic republic of Iran has never been intent on causing problems in the strategic Middle East region," Gen Yahya Rahim Safavi, the top military adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, was quoted by Fars News Agency as saying. The missile tests, which began on Sunday with the test-firing of the short-range Tondar, Zalzal and Fateh missiles, were carried out as part of annual war games on the occasion of the anniversary of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, which ended in 1988. The missiles were fired in three phases in different but unspecified parts of the country, according to Fars. Reporting the test-firing of the long-range surface-to-surface missiles, state television showed a missile fired into the sky from a desert location. According to Fars, the Revolutionary Guards for the first time also tested medium-range missiles in the Shahab class that can carry ­multiple warheads as well as mobile missile launchers. The manoeuvres attracted international attention because they came just days after Iran announced it had been building a second uranium enrichment plant 100km south-west of Tehran near the holy city of Qom and before the talks between the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany, and Iran. "There is no connection whatsoever [between the missiles and] the nuclear programme," Hasan Qashqavi, a foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters yesterday. The French foreign ministry, however, called them "deeply destabilising". Interfax News Agency said Moscow had been monitoring the missile test from a radar station in Azerbaijan. Gen Nikolai Rodionov, the former head of the Russian military's early-warning system, added that the Iranian missiles were capable of reaching the Russian city of Saratov, about 800km south-east of Moscow. The United States and some of its allies allege that the size of the new enrichment plant indicates it will be employed for production of missile-grade uranium, which can be used for building nuclear warheads that Iran's various missiles are capable of carrying. Iran says it has not violated any International Atomic Energy Agency regulations by building the new facility and is prepared to allow the UN nuclear monitor to inspect it to assure the agency that the plant will only enrich uranium to the level for use in nuclear power plants. The United States, Britain and France consider the construction of the second plant a violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have reacted by threatening to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action against Iran if its nuclear row with the West is not resolved through diplomatic talks or if the military nature of the country's nuclear programme is proven. Iran has staunchly denied the allegations it is conducting a nuclear programme aimed at building weapons and says its programme is directed at generating electricity. msinaiee@thenational.ae

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