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Iran Announces Development Of Longer-Range Missile

November 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) --- Iran has announced it has developed a new ballistic missile with a range of some 2,000 kilometers.

Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told the Fars news agency today that the rocket is to be named the "Ashura." Najjar gave no technical details of the new missile, but it is said to be a derivative of the Shahab-3 medium-range missile.

Radio Farda defense expert Hossein Aryan notes that the report about the Ashura comes only one month after another Shahab-based missile, the Qadr-1, was unveiled.

Aryan says the main difference between them appears to be an incremental increase in the range of the newer models. "Although we have not been provided with details or specifications of these missiles, the Shahab, as far as we know, has a [a range] in the region of 1,500 kilometers," Aryan said. "Then with the Qadr missile, which was displayed last month, it was 1,800, and with [the Ashura] it is 2,000 kilometers."

The range of the new rocket, if it is correct, means it has a very broad reach. "If it is true that it has [a range of] 2,000 kilometers, it could easily reach the entire Middle East, including Israel, countries in Southern Europe, plus all U.S. bases in the Middle East," Aryan noted.

The Iranian leadership has said it would strike at U.S. targets in the region if the United States launches any military action against it.

Aryan notes that some Western analysts question Iran's need for such long-range missiles, and they link the missile program to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

If the West's suspicions that Iran is trying to covertly develop nuclear weapons are accurate, then Tehran would need a missile-delivery system to carry the bomb.

Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Defense Minister Najjar did not give any details about whether the Ashura has been deployed with its military or if it is still at the testing stage.

The new missile is named after the holy mourning ceremony, Ashura, which marks the death of Shi'ite Imam Husayn ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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