A headline and earlier versions of this article, including in the print edition of today's Washington Post, incorrectly said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had linked a medium-range missile test to his country's nuclear program.
Iranian Missile Launch Confirmed
Thursday, May 21, 2009; 8:40 AM
SEMNAN, Iran, May 20 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that his country had successfully test-fired a medium-range solid-fuel missile apparently capable of striking Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf region.
U.S. officials confirmed the launch, while arms-control experts debated its significance. Several described it as evidence of continuing progress in Iran's missile program, if not a breakthrough. Iran fired a similar missile last year.
Iran's ability to build a solid-fuel rocket suggests an increasing sophistication in its missile program, because solid fuel offers advantages over Iran's previous liquid-fuel program, several experts said. For one thing, liquid-fuel rockets are more vulnerable to preemptive strikes because it takes hours or even days to fuel them. Solid-fuel rockets can be launched faster and are more mobile, the experts said.
The missile was launched from a site in Semnan province, where Iran's missile and space programs are headquartered and Ahmadinejad was born. Ahmadinejad visited the province Wednesday as part of a series of trips by government officials to Iran's 30 provinces ahead of the June 12 presidential election.
Reporters touring with Ahmadinejad saw corkscrews of smoke on the horizon near the Alborz mountain range early Wednesday. Hours later, Ahmadinejad announced the news to a crowd of thousands of people gathered for a speech in the city of Semnan. He said the missile struck its intended target, but he did not specify where the target was.
"The rocket went into space, returned to Earth and hit its target," Ahmadinejad said to raucous cheers in a soccer stadium lined with posters bearing his image.
The crowd of men and women, separated by sex according to Shiite Muslim tenets, repeatedly chanted "Ahmadinejad, we love you!" and "Ahmadinejad, we will vote for you!" during his 45-minute speech, which was aired live on Iranian television.
Ahmadinejad said the test was an important scientific achievement and a blow to those trying to thwart Iran's development with weapons and threats.
"We send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show," Ahmadinejad said in his speech. "We say to the superpowers, 'Who of you dare to threaten the Iranian nation? Raise your hand!' But they all stand there with their hands behind their backs."
Gary Samore, the top White House counterproliferation official, said the missile was "a significant step forward in terms of Iran's capability to deliver weapons."
But some experts said the missile was a new version of an existing missile that was successfully tested late last year and has a range of about 1,200 miles.
"The last launch, in November, didn't work as well, so here we have what appears to be a series of tests to try to master the technology and make it better," said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.