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US Says Iran's Missile Tests Do Not Make Conflict More Likely


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Wednesday's Iranian missile tests provide further evidence of the need for a European missile defense system, but he says the tests do not make military confrontation with Iran any more likely. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates indicated that the Iranian test demonstrated enhanced capability for the country's Shahab Three missile, but he said he could not provide details. Previous versions of the missile are believed to have a range of about 2,000 kilometers, enough to reach from western Iran to the western shore of the Black Sea.

Secretary Gates says the test provides evidence to support the U.S. view that Europe needs a system to defend against Iranian missiles.

"This certainly addresses the doubts raised by the Russians that the Iranians won't have a longer range ballistic missile for 10 to 20 years," said Robert Gates. "The fact is they just tested a missile that has a pretty extended range. So, my view, in the first instance, is we've been saying, as we've talked about missile defense in Europe, that there is a real threat. And it seems to me that the test this morning underscores that."

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Czech counterpart signed an agreement to place an anti-missile radar installation in the Czech Republic. Talks with Poland for an anti-missile launch site appear to have hit a new snag, but a Pentagon official says "rather intense discussions" are continuing and "good progress" is being made.

Iran's missile tests were accompanied by sharp rhetoric. The chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said the country's missile arsenal is ready to be fired at "any time, quickly and with accuracy," and that "enemy targets are under surveillance. On Tuesday, another Iranian official said Israel and U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf would be targeted if Iran is attacked.

Asked whether those statements and Wednesday's missile tests make a military confrontation with Iran more likely, Secretary Gates said he does not think so.

"There is a lot of signaling going on," he said. "But I think everybody recognizes what the consequences of any kind of a conflict would be. And I will tell you that this government is working hard to make sure that the diplomatic and economic approach to dealing with Iran, and trying to get the Iranian government to change its policies is the strategy and is the approach that continues to dominate."

The concern about Iran's missiles is intensified by its effort to develop nuclear weapons, an effort the United Nations Security Council members and Germany are trying to convince Iranian leaders to abandon.

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