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Iran test fires improved short-range missile

Iran claims that it has successfully test-fired a short-range ballistic missile, capable of reaching its immediate neighbors. The test comes after US and Israeli leaders threatened Tehran with military force this week.

Iran's defense minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, said on Saturday that the Islamic Republic had test fired a short-range missile with improved accuracy and striking range, but maintained that the weapon was for defensive purposes.

The Fateh 110 is a surface-to-surface missile first put into service in 2002, with an original range of 200 kilometers (120 miles). The upgraded version can now hit targets 300 kilometers (185 miles) away.

"By reaching this generation of the Fateh 110, a new capability has been added to our armed forces in striking sea and land targets," Vahidi said, according to quotes carried by the Islamic Republic News Agency. "Few countries in the world possess technology to build such missiles."

"Using new guidance methods, target-striking systems were installed on the missiles and during the flight test," he added. "Its ability to his the target without deviation was proven."

Iran also has long-range missiles, such as the Shahab-3, that are capable of reaching Israel and southern Europe. Israel is located 1,000 kilometers away from Iran, while the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain is 200 kilometers away.

Words of warning

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Israel on Wednesday, where he held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu told reporters that time was running out to stop Iran's nuclear program through diplomatic pressure.

Panetta bluntly warned the Islamic Republic that Washington was prepared to use all options - diplomatic code for military force - if Tehran did not meet Western demands to stop enriching uranium and open up its program to international inspectors.

"We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon - period," Panetta said. "We will exert all options in the effort to make sure that does not happen."

The EU, Israel and the US accuse Iran of clandestinely developing a nuclear weapon. Iran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy and medical purposes.

Tehran has in the past threatened to shutdown the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point in the Persian Gulf that is vital to the global oil trade, in retaliation against Western sanctions. Such a move could provoke a military response from the US.

slk/sej (AP, Reuters)