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Iran tests missile that can hit Israel

Tehran, July 7 (Reuters): Iran said today it had completed testing a long-range, surface-to-surface missile which military analysts say could strike its arch-enemy Israel.

The US accuses Iran of developing nuclear arms and the means to deliver them. UN atomic agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei will visit Tehran this week to tackle concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran says its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes and its missiles are only a deterrent.

“It happened a few weeks ago, it was a delivery test. The missile has the same range we announced before,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi said.

Asked to clarify what he meant by “delivery test”, he said: “It was the final test”.

State radio said it was the last test before the missile was delivered to the armed forces.

The Shahab-3 ballistic missile, first tested in 1998, has a range of 1,300 km. It is based on the North Korean Nodong-1 missile but has been improved with Russian technology.

Military analysts say Israel is within the missile’s range. Both the US and Israel accuse Iran of backing Palestinian militants responsible for suicide attacks in Israel.

Iran has publicly refused to acknowledge the right of the Jewish state to exist, although officials have recently said they would not oppose a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Palestinians backed it.

“They have been testing this missile for some time, so it is not an unknown. The only bad thing about it is the timing because of the ElBaradei visit,” said an Asian diplomat in Tehran. “But it shows they haven’t altered the schedule of their missile tests in response to external pressure.”

ElBaradei’s visit on Wednesday is seen as a key test of Iran’s willingness to ease mounting international concern that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief is expected to renew his call for Iran to sign an Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which would allow inspectors to carry out more intrusive, short-notice checks of its nuclear facilities.

”We hope we can reach a kind of mutual trust with ElBaradei,” Asefi said.“We are ready to hear his suggestions and remarks and discuss future cooperation.”

Iran has so far refused to agree to tougher inspections. It argues that sanctions denying it access to nuclear technology should be lifted first.

Military analysts say that following the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Iran has invested heavily in sophisticated military hardware aimed at providing a deterrent against future attack.

Faced with a Western embargo since that war, Iran has embarked on a strategy of copying and developing military hardware.

Iranian Defence Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani has denied reports that Tehran planned to develop an even bigger missile, the Shahab-4, and said Iran had increased the accuracy and explosive load of the Shahab-3 instead.

In recent years, the Islamic Republic has announced the production of locally designed missiles, a fighter plane, tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

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