Iran courts controversy with long-range missile tests

Carly Nyst
28 September 2009

As the UN discussed an end to nuclear proliferation, Iran defiantly test-fired long-range missiles capable of striking Israel and American bases in the Persian Gulf, the NewYork Times reported on Monday. Media outlets across Iran carried the story over the weekend, only days after the United States, France and Britain threatened harsh economic sanctions against Tehran in response to revelations that Iran is operating a second secret nuclear plant. The reported tests of Shahab-3 and Sejil missiles, while not the first conducted by Iran, confirm Israeli and US concerns that their freedom of action in the middle east could be severely compromised by a nuclear armed Iran.

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Iran has responded to the international furore over the event by saying that its missile tests have been planned for some time. However, the tests have been a significant addition to the already escalating dispute over Iran's nuclear capacity, which began last week in the United Nations General Assembly and is set to continue throughout international talks between the United States and Iran in Geneva on Thursday.

The ToD verdict: According to Iran's foreign ministry, the missile tests were pre-planned and merely part of an annual military drill commemorating the Iran-Iraq War. Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi argued that ‘many countries have these [displays] and it has nothing to do with Iran's peaceful nuclear technology.'

However, the timing of the tests cannot be ignored. The upcoming negotiations between Iran and the United States will be the first direct contact between the two countries in decades, and the tests can easily be interpreted as a sign of defiance and, potentially, hostile intentions.

A sanction package, which is already in the making following last week's dispute over the existence of a second nuclear plant, will likely be enhanced in response to recent developments. Israel is said to be placing considerable pressure upon the United States to take a strong stance in Thursday's talks, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week phoning the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and five other influential lawmakers, to urge the United States to pursue ‘crippling sanctions' against Iran.

Somali government ousts insurgents from key town

Somali government troops staged a pre-dawn attack on a strategically important town of Baladwayne in the centre of the country on Monday, Reuters reported, and reclaimed control of the area from Islamist insurgents. At least two people were killed and four injured in the attack, a vital victory for government troops, which have been struggling to contain the al Shabaab insurgency. Somalia's besieged UN-backed government is badly in need of more international support, having faced intense fighting with insurgents in recent months.

Six die in Iraq minibus bomb

A bomb planted in the rear of a minibus exploded south of Baghdad on Monday, Iraqi police said, killing six people and wounding two others. All those killed in the attack, which took place in the small town of Saniya, were passengers. While violence has fallen sharply in Iraq in recent years, roadside bombs and suicide attacks remain common. US troops withdrew from urban areas in June in advance of the deadline for the withdrawal of all troops in 2012.

Honduras suspends civil liberties after calls for revolution

The interim government in Honduras authorized the suspension of key civil liberties on Sunday in response to ousted president Manuel Zelaya's ‘calls for insurrection', The Guardian reports. Unauthorized public meetings can be dispersed by police and soldiers and people arrested without warrants under new laws announced just hours after Zelaya called on supporters to stage mass marches to mark the three-month anniversary of the coup that ousted him on 28 June. The special measures announced by the interim government fall short of martial law, but severely restrict freedom of the press by preventing the media from publishing material that ‘attack[s] peace and the public order.' Zelaya, who is currently residing in the Brazilian embassy, is demanding to be reinstated as president.

Security forces fire warning shots as opposition gather in Guinea capital

Guinea's security forces fired live ammunition into the air in response to the gathering of hundreds of opposition forces in Conakry, Guinea's capital, on Monday, though no causalities were reported. Areas in the capital were heavily garrisoned by police and gendarmes, witnesses said, and one group ‘fired into the air to try and block the road.' One and a half thousand opponents of the current regime filled the streets on Monday, protesting against junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power in a 2008 coup.
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