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Iran touts new missile's long range

It would be able to reach Israeli and US bases

Mostafa Mohammad Najjar did not say if the missile had been tested. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar did not say if the missile had been tested.
Email|Print| Text size + By Ali Akbar Dareini
Associated Press / November 28, 2007

TEHRAN - Iran's military said yesterday that it has manufactured a new missile with a range of 1,200 miles and capable of reaching Israel and US bases across the Mideast, the official news agency IRNA reported.

The defense minister, General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, did not say whether Iran had test fired the Ashoura or had plans to do so, according to the IRNA report. The name means "the 10th day" in Farsi, a sacred reference among Shi'ite Muslims to the martyrdom of Islam's third imam.

Iran already had reported improvements in a previous missile that would give it the same range as the Ashoura, and Najjar did not elaborate on whether there are any differences between the two weapons.

Recent weapons development has been motivated by Iran's standoff with the United States over its controversial nuclear program, which Washington says is a cover for developing an atomic bomb. Tehran denies that, saying the program is intended to produce electricity.

Iran is known to possess a medium-range missile known as the Shahab-3, which means "shooting star" in Farsi, with a range of at least 800 miles. In 2005, Iranian officials said they had improved its range to 1,200 miles, equal to the new missile announced yesterday.

Analysts also believe Iran is developing the Shahab-4 missile, thought to have a range of 1,200 to 1,900 miles that would enable it to hit much of Europe.

In Israel, there was no official reaction to Iran's statement. But missile specialist Uzi Rubin, formerly head of the Arrow antimissile project in Israel's Ministry of Defense, said the announcement had long been expected.

Rubin said Israel already was in range of other Iranian missiles, so "the people who need to be really worried about the new missile are in Europe."

Meanwhile, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator was acquitted yesterday of spying charges but convicted of acting against the Islamic government in a case that has become a centerpiece in the feud between hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his top political rival.

The verdict for Hossein Mousavian appeared to be a setback for Ahmadinejad, who had branded the diplomat a "spy" and made a veiled reference to him and other critics of his nuclear policies as "traitors."

Mousavian is a close ally of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful figure in Iran's clerical leadership who is seen as a pragmatist. Allies of Rafsanjani have been increasingly public in their criticism of Ahmadinejad, accusing him of mismanaging the nuclear standoff with the West and of lashing out against his rivals.

The case against Mousavian from the start was seen as a part of the rivalry. Ahmadinejad implicitly accused Rafsanjani's camp of trying to influence the judiciary to acquit the negotiator. He vowed to stop them and expose his opponents as traitors, suggesting Mousavian had urged the West to toughen its stance on Iran in the nuclear dispute.

Also yesterday, Iran's Supreme Court ordered a new investigation into the case of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist whose death in a notorious Tehran prison severely strained relations with Canada.

Zahra Kazemi was arrested in July 2003 while taking photographs outside Evin prison during student-led protests against the ruling theocracy. She was taken into custody and jailed at Evin and died a few days later. Iranian authorities initially said she had suffered a stroke.

A committee appointed by then-president Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, found that Kazemi, 54, died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage caused by a "physical attack." Prosecutors filed charges against a secret agent who interrogated Kazemi while she was in custody.

The more conservative judiciary rejected the presidential finding, saying Kazemi had died in an accidental fall when her blood pressure dropped during a hunger strike.

A former Iranian Army doctor has said he examined Kazemi and observed horrific injuries that could have been caused only by torture and rape. The doctor later received political asylum in Canada.

Lawyers representing Kazemi's relatives have repeatedly said they did not believe the secret agent was guilty, accusing prison official Mohammad Bakhshi of inflicting the fatal blow to Kazemi and the judiciary of illegally detaining her.

The Canadian government has blamed Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi for Kazemi's death. Iranian reformists accused Mortazavi of trying to stage a coverup because he was the one who reported that Kazemi died of a stroke. No charges have been filed against Mortazavi in the case.

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