Iran Launches Nine Test Missiles, Says More Are Ready

Undersecretary of State William Burns said Wednesday that Iran is trying to foster the perception that its nuclear program is advancing. But Iran's "real progress has been more modest," Burns said. Video by AP
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iran test-fired nine missiles yesterday -- including at least one capable of striking Israel -- and asserted that thousands more are "ready for launch," but Bush administration officials played down the possibility of military action against the Islamic republic and belittled Tehran's claims of progress on its nuclear program.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters the world is not closer to a military confrontation, even though Iran's missile launch came just days after Israel conducted a high-profile military exercise in the Mediterranean. "What we're seeing is a lot of signaling going on," he said, adding that both Israel and Iran "understand [the] consequences" of military action.

Undersecretary of State William J. Burns told Congress that "we view force as an option that is on the table, but a last resort." He said the United States and its allies have made progress in thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying: "While deeply troubling, Iran's real nuclear progress has been less than the sum of its boasts."

The Bush administration's statements contrasted with tougher talk by the presidential candidates.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, issued a statement against Iran yesterday morning that the tests "demonstrate again the dangers it poses to its neighbors and to the wider region, especially Israel."

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said that the missile launches show "the threat from Iran's nuclear program is real and it is grave," and that it is necessary to begin "direct, aggressive and sustained diplomacy." The two campaigns then squabbled over whether Obama had supported strong action against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

With only six months remaining in President Bush's term, senior officials have repeatedly dismissed the possibility of military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. Instead, the administration has stepped up diplomacy, both toughening sanctions and joining other leading nations in sweetening incentives for Iran to suspend its nuclear activities and begins serious negotiations.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month even signed a joint letter to the Iranian foreign minister offering the deal, though the administration has refused thus far to allow a senior U.S. official to join other foreign officials in talks in Tehran.

"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," Gates said. "At this point, I'm comfortable that that remains the case."

Iran has responded with cryptic and somewhat encouraging comments, though it has continued to work on its nuclear program. Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief and main Western interlocutor on Iran's nuclear program, is expected to meet with Iranian officials next week.

Burns said the United States and other nations are working on "an intense public diplomacy campaign to explain what we're offering directly. . . .We want the Iranian people to see clearly how serious we are about reconciliation and helping them to develop their full potential, but also who's responsible for Iran's isolation."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that in recent years, Iran has conducted similar exercises, including missile tests. But analysts said the tests, along with Iranian rhetoric, are meant as highly symbolic warning to Israel and the United States.

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