(AP) – Iran tested its longest-range missiles Monday and warned they can reach any place that threatens the country, including Israel, parts of Europe and U.S. military bases in the Mideast. The launch capped two days of war games and was condemned as a provocation by Western powers, which are demanding Tehran come clean about a newly revealed nuclear facility it has been secretly building.
The tests Sunday and again Monday added urgency to a key meeting this week between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany – an international front seeking clear answers about the direction of its nuclear program.
Iran’s missile program and its nuclear work – much of it carried out in secrecy – have long been a concern for the United States, Israel and its Western allies. They fear Tehran is intent on developing an atomic weapons capability and the missiles to deploy such warheads, despite Iran’s assurances it is only pursuing civilian nuclear power.
The launchings were meant to display Iran’s military might and demonstrate its readiness to respond to any military threat.
The latest controversy comes days before a critical meeting Thursday in Geneva between Iran and six major powers trying to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.
Iran’s new nuclear site is located in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom and is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard, according to a document sent by President Barack Obama’s administration to lawmakers.
Experts say they have found sites that appear to be military north of Qom, although there has been no confirmation from the U.S. government and Iran says the nuclear facility is south of the holy city.
After strong condemnations from the U.S. and its allies, Iran said Saturday it would allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine the site.
The facility’s military connection could undermine Iran’s contention that the plant was designed for civilian purposes.
Israel has trumpeted the latest discoveries as proof of its long-held assertion that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. By U.S. estimates, Iran is one to five years away from having nuclear weapons capability, although U.S. intelligence also believes that Iranian leaders have not yet made the decision to build a weapon.
Iran is also developing ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, although a U.S. intelligence assessment in May says the country is focusing efforts on short- and medium-range missiles like the Shahab.
Iran is not expected to have such a missile until 2015 to 2020, according to the report, which was described by a U.S. government official on condition of anonymity because it is classified.
The Sajjil-2 missile is Iran’s most advanced two-stage surface-to-surface missile and is powered entirely by solid-fuel, while the older Shahab-3 uses a combination of solid and liquid fuel in its most advanced form, known as the Qadr-F1.
Solid fuel increases a missile’s accuracy in reaching targets and is seen as a technological breakthrough for any missile program.
Experts say the Sajjil-2 is more accurate and has a more advanced navigation system than the Shahab.