Bahai News - Missile has no impact on U.S. hopes for Iran
Nation & World : Friday, July 24, 1998
Missile has no impact on U.S. hopes for Iran
by Robin Wright
WASHINGTON - The United States moved quickly yesterday to prevent
troubling developments in Iran - including the test launch of a new
missile - from derailing efforts to open a dialogue with Tehran.
Los Angeles Times
U.S. officials said they hope to continue detente with Iran despite:
-- The disturbing implications of the new missile, which could
strike targets throughout the Middle East.
-- The harsh prison sentence meted out to Tehran's reformist mayor.
-- And the execution of an Iranian member of the Bahai faith
for trying to convert a Muslim.
The White House said U.S. intelligence is "actively monitoring"
Iran's growing military capability. But officials played down the threat
to the region or American forces in the Persian Gulf.
"This is the first test. Additional time is normally required to
bring missiles into serious production and operational status," a senior
White House official said.
U.S. intelligence personnel detected Iran's test of the Shahab-3
missile on Wednesday. The missile has an 800-mile range and could target
Iran's neighbors in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, South Asia, Russia,
Turkey - and Israel.
An import from North Korea and Russia
The Shahab is similar to North Korea's No Dong missile, first tested
in 1993. Tehran has been working with North Korea and Russia for years
to acquire technology and adapt others' missiles for its own use, State
Department spokesman James Rubin said.
The Shahab was fired from a base southwest of Tehran but exploded
before completing its trajectory. U.S. intelligence was uncertain
whether the missile blew up by accident or was deliberately detonated
after its performance was proven.
Despite the ominous implications, a single missile test "does not
change the balance of power," White House press secretary Mike McCurry
"U.S. policy is still on course. This test only underscores the need
for dialogue," a senior administration official said. "It is the reason
that one of the first topics we will raise forcefully, if and when we
have a dialogue, will be weapons of mass destruction and why they are
not the best way to secure Iran's interests in the region."
Test was predicted
The missile test was not unexpected. In January, CIA Director George
Tenet told Congress he had revised his agency's earlier estimate that
Iran would not achieve medium-range missile capability for another
"Iran's success in gaining technology and materials from Russian
companies, combined with recent indigenous Iranian advances, means that
it could have a medium-range missile much sooner," Tenet said then. The
CIA had privately forecast a test this year.
"It'll still be a long time, probably many years, before Iran's
missile will be a threat to any of our allies," a senior administration
official said yesterday.
Israel isn't too concerned
Iran also is very unlikely to be able to place chemical or nuclear
warheads on a missile, a U.S. official said. Iran's nuclear program is
at an early stage.
Even Israeli officials said they did not regard the test as an
immediate threat, although they expressed concern about its long-term
"If I read the publicized information correctly, this is not a
missile that can reach Israel," Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said.
"But the very fact of the test launch of long-range missiles by Iran is
grave and constitutes an acute threat that is developing in the Middle
At this stage, Iran's motives appear to be defensive, U.S. and
Israeli experts said. It is not believed to have any active targets in
mind, and there have been no diplomatic crises since Iran's new
reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, undertook a policy of
rapprochement with his Gulf neighbors.
"Missiles are first of all a deterrent. They are meant to deter
Israel against such a possible move such as attacking Iranian nuclear
sites," said Yiftah Shapir, an arms expert at the Jaffee Center for
Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.
After a devastating eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, when
Iraqi Scud missiles rained on Iranian cities and chemical weapons were
used on Iranian civilians, Tehran has sought to develop weapons to
discourage use of the deadliest arms by its neighbors. "Iran feels
vulnerable because it has been the target of aggression. It also lives
in an unstable neighborhood," said Shaul Bakhash, an Iran expert at
Virginia's George Mason University.
Mayor's sentence is more troubling
The Clinton administration, for its part, appeared more alarmed by
internal political developments in Iran than by the missile test. U.S.
officials and Iran experts expressed concern about what they viewed as
the severe sentence imposed on the Tehran mayor, a Khatami ally
convicted of corruption.
Reformist Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi was sentenced to five years
in prison, 60 lashes and a large fine, and was banned from politics.
The sentence, U.S. officials said, appeared to signal widespread
opposition by religious conservatives to the policies advocated by
Khatami's moderate government.
©Copyright 1998, The Seattle Times Company
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