U.S.: Iranian Missile Tests "Provocative"

This photo released by the Iranian semi-official Fars News Agency, claims to show the launch of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Shahab-3 medium-range missile during a drill at an undisclosed location on Monday, Sept. 28, 2009. AP Photo/Ali Shaigan, Fars

Last Updated 3:08 p.m. ET.

The White House today called Iran's latest missile tests "provocative," and said the onus is now on the Iranians to respond to the newly-revealed existence of a secret underground facility that could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran said it successfully test-fired the longest-range missiles in its arsenal on Monday, weapons capable of carrying a warhead and striking Israel, U.S. military bases in the Middle East, and parts of Europe.

The launches come at a time when Iran is under intense international pressure to fully disclose its nuclear activities, after the U.S. and its allies disclosed that Iran had been secretly developing an underground uranium enrichment facility and warned the country it must open the site to international inspection or face harsher international sanctions.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said there has never been a stronger international consensus to get tough on Iran's nuclear program, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss.

Western nations accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran says it only seeks to create fuel for nuclear power plants.

Of the meeting in Geneva on Thursday between Iran and other nations, including the U.S., about Iran nuclear program, Gibbs said it Iran must provide full transparency about its nuclear activities, and ensure that it will only pursuit peaceful nuclear energy uses.

"They have decisions to make. They have one of two paths that they can take. They can continue the path that they've been on, even while the world has shown conclusive intelligence about a facility in Qom, or it can make a decision to step away from its nuclear weapons program and build confidence in the world and ... enter into a meaningful relationship with the world based on their own security, but not based on nuclear weapons," Gibbs said.

When asked what nations at Thursday's meeting (referred to as P5+1) will expect from Tehran, Gibbs said they can "agree to immediate unfettered access [of the nuclear fuel facility]. That would be the least that they could do."

Gibbs also used the Iranian tests to back up the recent announcement that the Obama administration was scrapping the Bush era missile defense program that was to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"The decision that Secretary Gates, General Cartwright [and] the Joint Chiefs approved unanimously and forwarded to the president, which the president then approved, is something that deals with the exact threat of medium- and intermediate-range missiles that you saw Iran testing just today," he said.

Also today, Russia's foreign minister said that Iran's missile tests are causing concern.

Sergey Lavrov also says that he has urged Iran to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and fully answer questions related to its newly-revealed uranium enrichment facility.

Lavrov made the comments Monday at the United Nations when he spoke to Russian reporters after his meeting with his Iranian counterpart, according to Russia's three main news agencies.

Iran Tests Its Most Advanced Missiles

State television said the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which controls Iran's missile program, successfully tested the medium-range Shahab-3 and Sajjil missiles which can fly up to 1,200 miles. It was the third round of missile tests in two days of drills by the Guard.

The Sajjil-2 missile is Iran's most advanced two-stage surface-to-surface missile and is powered entirely by solid-fuel, while the older Shahab-3 uses a combination of solid and liquid fuel in its most advanced form.

Solid fuel is seen as a technological breakthrough for any missile program, as solid fuel increases the accuracy of missiles in reaching targets.

Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said Sunday the drills were meant to show Tehran is prepared to crush any military threat from another country.

The revelation of Iran's previously secret nuclear site has given greater urgency to a key meeting on Thursday in Geneva between Iran and six major powers trying to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program.

James Rubin, former Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration and a weapons proliferation expert, told CBS' "The Early Show" on Monday that Tehran conducted the missile tests "to say they don't feel on the defensive" ahead of this week's meeting in Geneva.

"They're saying, 'We still feel strong - on the offense not on the defense.' It shows how difficult Thursday's negotiations are going to be," said Rubin.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she doesn't believe Iran can convince the U.S. and other world powers at the upcoming meeting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, putting Tehran on a course for tougher economic penalties beyond the current "leaky sanctions."

The Iranians must "present convincing evidence as to the purpose of their nuclear program. We don't believe that they can present convincing evidence that it's only for peaceful purposes, but we are going to put them to the test," Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation".

"If we don't get the answers that we are expecting and the changes in behavior that we're looking for, then we will work with our partners to move toward sanctions," Clinton added.

Rubin cautioned, however, that the Obama administration should "be very realistic about what sanctions can do against a regime like this."

"The idea that this group (Iran's leaders), which has shed all the relatively moderate people over the last six months, is going to capitulate to the United States" is unlikely, Rubin told "Early Show" anchor Maggie Rodriguez.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer said, despite the offensive show of force on the missile range, Iran's leaders will enter Thursday's round of talks on the defensive - embarrassed by the revelation of its secret nuclear site and still reeling from the bloody aftermath of a contested presidential election.

(GeoEye/IHS Janes Analysis via AP)
The second nuclear site was revealed in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom and is believed to be inside a heavily-guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard, according to a document sent by President Obama's administration to lawmakers.

Left: A GeoEye-1 satellite image taken of the suspect nuclear enrichment facility under construction inside a mountain located about 20 miles NNE of Qum, Iran.)

After the strong condemnations from the U.S. and its allies, Iran said Saturday it will allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine the site.

Israel has trumpeted the latest discoveries as proof of its long-held assertion that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

By U.S. estimates, Iran is one to five years away from having nuclear weapons capability, although U.S. intelligence also believes that Iranian leaders have not yet made the decision to build a weapon.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi identified the newly revealed site as Fordo, a village located 112 miles south of the capital Tehran. The site is 62 miles away from Natanz, Iran's known industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant.

Qashqavi, however, said the missile tests had nothing to do with the tension over the site, saying it was part of routine, long-planned military exercises.

Iran also is developing ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, but the administration said last week that it believes that effort has been slowed. That assessment paved the way for Mr. Obama's decision to shelve the Bush administration's plan for a missile shield in Europe, which was aimed at defending against Iranian ballistic missiles.

State media reported tests overnight of the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles, with ranges of 185 miles and 435 miles respectively.

That followed tests early Sunday of the short range Fateh and Tondar missiles, which have a range of 120 miles and 93 miles respectively.

Iran's last known missile tests were in May when it fired its longest-range solid-fuel missile, Sajjil-2.
  • CBSNews

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.