Iran Tests Missile Capable of Reaching Israel

WASHINGTON  — U.S. government officials were unusually tightlipped about Iran's missile test Wednesday as they worked to study details of the launch.

Two officials confirmed the launch had taken place, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak on the record.

"It appears the test was a success," one official said. "It appears they launched a medium-range missile."

The U.S. officials said they were trying to determine the missile's range, trajectory and other details.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the launch was a test-firing of a new advanced missile with a range of about 1,200 miles, capable of reaching Israel and U.S. Mideast bases.

The announcement comes less than a month before Iran's presidential election and just two days after President Barack Obama declared a readiness to seek deeper international sanctions against Tehran if it did not respond positively to U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program.

Some dozen hours after the test, numerous U.S. defense and intelligence officials declined to even acknowledge the Iranian launch had occurred. Some referred calls to the White House and State Department, a sign of how politically sensitive the development is to the Obama administration and its continuing efforts to deal with Iran's reported efforts to build nuclear weapons.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not confirm the launch but said the U.S. is aware of Iran's pursuit of ballistic missiles.

"Our concerns are obviously based on nuclear ambitions and the implications that long- and medium-range missiles have with respect to that," Whitman told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

He added: "Iran is at a bit of a crossroads. They have a choice to make. They can either continue on this path of continued destabilization in the region or they can decide that they want to pursue relationships with the counties in the region and the United States that are more normalized."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, also said nothing about the Iranian launch when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) raised the issue during questioning.

But Clinton did cite the issue generally, saying that a nuclear-armed Iran is "going to spark an arms race" in the Middle East.

Without commenting directly on the missile launch reports, Clinton referred Wednesday to a host of threats to the United States that she said are "daunting."

Clinton reiterated that the Obama administration opposes Iran getting a nuclear weapons capability and that it is relying for now on diplomatic pressure to stop it.

She described a nuclear capability as an "extraordinary threat." And Clinton said that the U.S. goal is "to persuade the Iranian regime that they will actually be less secure if they proceed with their nuclear weapons program."

In a breakfast meeting with reporters, Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy said she could not confirm reports of a launch but spoke in general about Iran's missile program.

"There are U.N. Security Council resolutions in place that ... thwart that kind of activity," Flournoy said. "So I do think that it poses a security threat to the region and that we will have to, probably, to deal with it."

She said the administration is trying to present Iran with "a very fundamental choice between staying on the current path they are on, which I think is only going to hamper their security in the long term ... versus taking another path where if they were to reject support for terrorism and extremism, reject nuclear weapons, they could actually be on a path that would do a lot more for their ultimate security."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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