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. Iran says being deliberately "ambiguous" over missiles
TEHRAN (AFP) Sep 27, 2004
Iran said Monday it was being deliberately ambiguous over its missile capability, currently a topic of intense speculation following fresh tests and the introduction of a "strategic" device.

On Saturday, Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani told state-run television that the Iranian army has taken delivery of a new "strategic missile" and that the weapon, unnamed for security reasons, was successfully tested last week.

"Mr Shamkhani intentionally spoke in an ambiguous way and we want this ambiguity to remain," government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told reporters when asked to elaborate on what this "strategic missile" was.

It is unclear if the weapon in question is the Shahab-3 medium-range missile, acquired by the Revolutionary Guards in July last year, of which an improved version was tested in August.

The Shahab-3 is believed to be based on a North Korean design and is thought to be capable of carrying a one-tonne warhead at least 1,300 kilometres (800 miles), well within range of Israel and US bases in the region.

During a military parade last week, Iran showed off its range of ballistic missiles draped in banners vowing to "crush America" and "wipe Israel off the map".

"The Shahab-3 missiles, with different ranges, enables us to destroy the most distant targets," said an official commentary accompanying the parade, which was carried live on state television.

While the country has announced it has upgraded the missile -- perhaps bringing its range up to 2,000 kilometres -- it has denied it is working on a Shahab-4, a device that would involve a two-stage propulsion system.

Steady progress made by Iran's ballistic missile programme is a source of concern to the international community, adding to worries about the country's nuclear activities, which Tehran insists are peaceful.

Iran says the Shahab-3 is simply a deterrent, while Israel charges that the Islamic state could have a nuclear warhead by 2007. Israeli alarm has led to speculation that Israel -- currently believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East -- may launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

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