TEHRAN // Iran state media has reported that the country has tested more missiles, prompting a stern warning from the US that it will defend its allies against any Iranian aggression. Washington, which fears Tehran wants to master technology to build nuclear weapons, said after Iran test fired nine missiles yesterday that Tehran should halt further missile tests if it wanted to gain the world's trust.
The Pentagon is said to have studied intelligence data to try to determine exactly what Iran launched and to gauge its missile capabilities. Testifying to congressional committees, the Undersecretary of State William J Burns tried to appeal to Iran to come to the negotiating table by saying the US would go ahead jointly with Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to promote a deal to trade one suspension for another. That is, if Iran suspended uranium enrichment, harsh sanctions pressing on the Iranian economy would be suspended as well. Mr Burns called the described the latest missile testing as "disturbing and provocative" and told the US House committee: "Iran reminded us again today that it is moving ahead with a missile system which could be used to deliver a weapon."
Iran said the missiles could hit Israeli and US bases stationed around the Middle East. Speculation that Israel could bomb Iran has mounted since a big Israeli air drill last month, while US leaders have not ruled out military options if diplomacy fails to end the nuclear row. Iran has responded by saying it will strike back at Tel Aviv, as well as US interests and shipping, if it attacked. Tehran insists its nuclear programme has only civilian goals. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on a visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia that Washington was sending a message to Iran that it would defend American interests and those of its allies. "We take very, very strongly our obligation to help our allies defend themselves and no one should be confused about that," Ms Rice said after meeting the Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Yesterday's tests by Iran's Revolutionary Guards rattled global oil markets, pushing up the price of oil. Crude oil prices rose again in the Asian trade as the market feared a regional conflict that could disrupt supplies from Iran, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (Opec) number two producer. The chief of French oil giant Total, Christophe de Margerie, said it was too politically risky to invest Iran at present, as Western governments lean on commercial firms to cut their ties with the Islamic republic. His remarks appeared to spell the end of Total's involvement in a deal to exploit the phase 11 of Iran's giant South Pars gas field to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export and to build a liquefaction plant. "Today we would be taking too much political risk to invest in Iran because people will say: 'Total will do anything for money'," de Margerie told the Financial Times.
Iranian state TV and radio said the new missile tests took place last night and lasted into today. "Deep in the Gulf waters, the launch of different types of ground-to-sea, surface-to-surface, sea-to-air and the powerful launch of the Hout missile successfully took place," state radio said without giving further details. Iranian satellite channel Press TV said Hout was a torpedo. "Iran's Revolutionary Guards test more missiles in Gulf," the Press TV reported in a brief headline. The reports followed remarks yesterday night by Guards air force Commander Hossein Salami, who had told state television that a "night missile manoeuvre" was taking place. But he gave no details at the time. Press TV said the new missile tests were part of an ongoing military manoeuvre.