Iran tests missile as Obama tests diplomacy

Ahmadinejad said today that the Islamic Republic has a missile capable of reaching Israel. A new report says Iran could develop a simple nuclear device as early as 2010.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Wednesday that Iran had successfully launched a surface-to-air missile with a range of 1,240 miles – well within striking capacity of Israel and parts of Europe.

Within five years, Iran could develop a nuclear warhead that could be launched by such a missile, according to a new report issued Tuesday by the EastWest Institute. But in as little as a year, the Islamic republic could possess a simple nuclear device.

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These developments come in the wake of President Obama's statement on Monday that Iran has until the end of the year to show it's serious about nuclear negotiations. If it does, he says that he remains sanguine that a diplomatic approach can yield results.

The race is on between Obama's diplomacy and Iran's nuclear scientists.

At least that's how the New York Times recently described Obama's challenge.

So now begins Mr. Obama's diplomatic sprint. His declaration Monday that 'we're not going to have talks forever' was a warning to the Iranians that his fundamentally different approach — serious American engagement with Tehran for the first time in three decades — must bear fruit before Iran clears the last technological hurdles to building a weapon.

Since assuming power in January, the Obama administration has taken a markedly different approach to Iran than the Bush administration, as Bloomberg reports.

The U.S. has abandoned calls for "regime change" in Iran under President Barack Obama and expects a response to its diplomatic outreach, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said.
"That is not the current policy of this new administration, and it is important for Iran to understand that," Kerry said during a panel hearing in Washington today. "Just as we abandon calls for regime change in Tehran and recognize the legitimate Iranian role in the region, Iran's leaders need to moderate their behavior.

But while diplomacy has helped thaw relations – Ahmadinejad has been cautious but receptive to Obama's overtures – it hasn't stopped Iran from pursuing nuclear technology, as the EastWest Institute's new report underscores.

The Associated Press reports:

The EastWest Institute says it brought U.S. and Russian scientists together for the first time to produce a joint threat assessment on Iran's nuclear and missile potential. The institute is a nonpartisan organization focused on global challenges.
The scientists say in a report issued Tuesday by the institute that Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 1,000 kilogram (2,200 pounds) nuclear warhead up to 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) "in perhaps six to eight years."

Still, other domestic factors could obstruct Iran's technological progress, the Los Angeles Times points out.

... the EastWest Institute concludes that although Iran could build a nuclear device within one to three years of deciding to do so, it would not be able to deliver a long-range weapon for many more years.
A separate 230-page report by the Rand Corp., the result of political and military research for the U.S. Air Force begun in 2007, found Iran a less formidable adversary than some believe.
The report notes "significant barriers and buffers" to Iran's ambitions because of the reality of regional ethnic and religious politics and "its limited conventional military capacity, diplomatic isolation and past strategic missteps."

That view accords with the Obama administration's own assessment of Iran, which is why they may be holding out for diplomacy, as the New York Times reports:

The American interpretation is that Iran could reach the capability to build a bomb any time between 2010 and 2015 — a window that cracks open right after Mr. Obama's rough deadline to show that negotiations are working. But in their public comments, senior American intelligence officials say they think Iran would not have a serious nuclear capability until the end of that range. "We have some time," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insisted earlier this year.

Developments this week suggest Iran wants to keep the US and Israel guessing how quickly it could launch a nuclear warhead, the BBC reports.

Iran says it has successfully test launched a mid-range surface-to-surface missile, state media has reported.
The BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says the Sajjil-2 is one of Iran's longest range rockets, able to reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf, and the launch is likely to be criticised by the West.
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