U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has confirmed that Iran has tested a medium range ballistic missile that can reach Israel, southeastern Europe and U.S. bases in the Middle East. A Pentagon spokesman says the test "is consistent" with U.S. concerns about Iran's effort to develop ballistic missiles and its nuclear program.
Secretary Gates confirmed the Iranian test during an appearance before a House of Representatives committee.
"The information that I have read indicates that it was a successful flight test," he said. "The missile will have a range of approximately 2,000 to 2,500 kilometers. Because of some of the problems they've had with their engines, we think, at least at this stage of the testing, it's probably closer to the lower end of that range. Whether it hit the target that it was intended for, I have not seen any information on that."
Iran says the test missile did hit its target.
Iran's ability to threaten U.S. allies in Europe is a key motivation for the missile defense system the Bush Administration was working on installing in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Obama Administration has been reviewing whether it wants to proceed with the program. President Obama says he wants to evaluate whether the system is technologically feasible and cost effective, and whether the Iranian threat can be eased through diplomacy.
On Wednesday, Secretary Gates gave this insight into the review. "There is considerable interest, I would say, in the administration in pursuing the third [European] site," he said.
"But I would say there is also great interest, which frankly I've been working on for two years, to see if we can partner with the Russians and make this in effect a quadripartite effort of Poland, the Czech Republic, the Russians and ourselves," he added.
Secretary Gates said an existing Russian radar could supplement the planned American system. But Russia has rebuffed previous U.S. efforts to create a shared missile defense system, and strongly opposes the American plan to install its own system in Europe. Gates says any deployment of the U.S. system has been delayed by the fall of the Czech government before its parliament ratified the relevant treaties.
Earlier Wednesday, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Iranian missile test tends to add credence to U.S. concerns about the potential Iranian threat to its neighbors.
"Iran is at a bit of a crossroad," he said. "They have a choice to make. They can either continue on this path of continued destabilization in the region, or they can decide that they want to pursue relationships with countries in the region and the United States that are more normalized. They have a choice to make."
President Obama is trying to engage diplomatically with Iranian leaders, in an effort to settle differences over its missile and nuclear programs, and other issues. After the latest test, his spokesman confirmed that the president still believes it makes sense to do that. But the president said this week that if he does not get a positive response by the end of the year, he will reassess his policy.
Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, but U.S. officials disagree. Still, experts say while Iran is making progress in its missile program, the technology involved in putting a nuclear warhead on a missile is much more complicated.