Iran can strike most of Europe: US official

July 22nd, 2008 - 11:29 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 22 (DPA) Iran probably can already hit most of Europe and even Britain with a ballistic missile, even though it has not yet demonstrated the capability, the Pentagon’s missile defence chief said. “I personally believe, based on what I’ve seen, that right now Iran has the ability to reach most of Europe. And they just haven’t demonstrated it yet,” Lieutenant General Henry Obering said in an interview with DPA Monday.

Obering heads the Pentagon’s Missile Defence Agency, which is building the missile shield that the Bush administration wants to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter the Iranian threat.

US intelligence estimates have said that Iran could have the capability of hitting the US by 2015, but the Islamic state’s growing technological know-how adds to the sense of urgency for Washington to finalise the agreements with the two Eastern European countries, Obering said.

“That’s one of the things that we’re very worried about,” he said.

The Czech Republic and the US have already concluded an agreement for the hosting of a radar site. The deal is pending parliamentary ratification in Prague.

Washington and Warsaw are still trying to work out an agreement to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. Negotiations have dragged out over demands that the US invest more in Polish air defences.

The lengthy process with the Poles will not cause major delays in the timetable to deploy one or two interceptors by 2011 and the full set by 2013, Obering said, adding that the original goal of fielding the system earlier in those years will now be pushed back but won’t slip into the following years.

“We are going to be later than we expected,” Obering said.

Russia fiercely opposes the anti-missile deployment and has threatened to target the Czech and Polish sites. The US says that the system would be too small to undermine Moscow’s strategic deterrent.

Russian media reported Monday that the military is considering whether to reinstate a Cold War practice of resuming bomber flights to Cuba in response to the US missile defence plans for Europe.

“At the moment, there are just thoughts - but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something concrete behind it,” an unnamed Russian officer told Izvestiya newspaper.

Obering said the Russian comments were another example of the Kremlin using Cold War-style fear tactics in an attempt to thwart the deployment of the missile shield.

“You’re going to continue to hear statements like that, to try to build fear and to try to influence the ratification processes in Europe,” Obering said. “I think that’s what that is about - this idea of raising a Cold War spectre.”

Earlier this month, Iran conducted two days of short and medium-range missile exercises, described as a warning to its enemies, as pressure continues to mount on Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme. Those missiles were capable of reaching Israel or US bases in the region.

The UN Security Council has passed three resolutions enacting limited sanctions on Iran for its failure to stop enriching uranium, a process that can be used to develop nuclear weapons but that Iran says is intended only for producing energy.

The US has already installed long-range missile interceptors in Alaska and California. The same system is planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, though the interceptor boosters will be reduced from three stages to two to meet geographic and altitude requirements.

The Missile Defence Agency will begin testing the adapted interceptors in 2009 with subsequent tests planned for 2010 and 2011, Obering said.

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