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Amid Iran's tests, signs of weakness

Evidence mounts that international sanctions are having an impact.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 11, 2008

Pentagon response: Defense Secretary Robert Gates (l.) said Wednesday that Iran's missile tests bolster the US argument that Tehran is a threat.

Lawrence Jackson/AP



With Iran reporting a second day of missile tests this week, it appears to be intent upon signaling to its adversaries – primarily the United States and Israel – that it is prepared to meet and match both provocations and any eventual attack.

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But the show of force, which Thursday reportedly included missiles test-fired from ships in the strategically sensitive Persian Gulf, may also be part of an attempt to cover over Iran's weaknesses and to draw attention away from signs that the international community's efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program are having an impact.

Almost lost in an aggressive verbal exchange that continued Thursday – with a reminder to Tehran from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the US will defend its interests and allies – was an announcement by French energy corporation Total. It said it was canceling plans to invest in Iran's energy sector by developing one of Iran's natural gas fields.

European companies like Total and banks working with Iranian business interests have come under increasing pressure to conform to international efforts, including United Nations sanctions and separate US and European Union sanctions, aimed at halting Iran's uranium-enrichment program.

On Wednesday, a top US diplomat told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the international community is making headway in slowing Iran's nuclear program. The program includes efforts to perfect the process for delivering highly enriched uranium – which can be used as fuel for nuclear weapons.

"While deeply troubling, Iran's real nuclear progress has been less than the sum of its boasts," said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.

Some of Iran's missile testing is a piece of annual military exercises that are designed, in part, to show the US – which maintains large numbers of troops next door in Iraq and Afghanistan – that Iran has its ways of causing America pain, some Iran experts say.

But they say that this year, the Iranians may be more focused on sending signals about Israel, which over recent months has seemed to supplant the US as the likeliest deliverer of any eventual military strike against Iranian nuclear installations. Iran's military exercises, which included test-firing a missile with the ability to reach Israel, follow last month's Israeli war games over the Mediterranean Sea, which some US officials saw as a dry run for a possible attack on Iran.