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Iran parades new missiles daubed with threats to wipe Israel off map
( 2003-09-23 21:57) (Guardian)

Iran yesterday defiantly showed off six of its new ballistic missiles daubed with anti-US and anti-Israel slogans in a move sure to reinforce international concern over the nature of its nuclear programme.

At the climax of a military parade marking the outbreak of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the enormous Shehab-3 missiles were rolled out painted with the messages, "We will crush America under our feet' and "Israel must be wiped off the map."

Iran later announced that it would scale down cooperation with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. Ali Akbar Salehim, Tehran's envoy to the IAEA, said on state television that Iran had been allowing the agency more oversight than required under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty "to show our goodwill and transparency."

The IAEA has imposed a strict deadline, saying Iran must prove it has no nuclear weapons programme by October 31. Its governing board has also demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment ac tivity and open its doors to unfettered inspections. If Tehran fails to comply, the UN security council could decide to impose sanctions.

The Shehab-3, which means "meteor" in Farsi, underwent final tests this year and has a range of about 810 miles, putting Israel and US bases in the Gulf within striking distance. It is based on the North Korean No-Dong and Pakistani Ghauri-11 medium-range missiles.

Israel suspects Iran's theocratic leadership may be planning to arm the weapons eventually with nuclear warheads. Yesterday's show of military prowess will do nothing to dispel US and European suspicions that Iran has ambitions to build an atomic bomb.

The parade marked the largest number of Shehab-3 missiles put on public display since the weapons were officially handed over to the hardline revolutionary guard for operation in July.

An announcer called the Shehab-3 a great achievement for the Islamic republic, shouting "God is Great" as trucks towed the weapons past a review stand of military officers and dignitaries. The announcer also said the missiles had an even longer range than previously believed but a defence ministry spokesman later said that it had been a mistake.

President Mohammad Khatami, who watched the parade, said in a speech that Iran faced threats from outside enemies but would not seek to obtain nuclear weapons.

"We are opposed to the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the very existence of atomic weapons," he said.

Mr Khatami's reformist allies in parliament have urged the clerical leadership to agree to snap inspections by the IAEA to defuse mounting international pressure.

But conservative figures have called for expelling UN inspectors and withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Iran has denied it has a weapons project and says its nuclear programme is designed to meet growing domestic demand for electricity.

In his speech, Mr Khatami said Iran would insist on its right to scientific development. "We will not renounce our right to become stronger in the domains of science and technology," he said.

The president, who referred to Israel as the "Zionist regime", also accused outside governments of hypocrisy by tolerating Israel's "considerable atomic arsenal".

"Even if we don't give a pretext to the enemy, they will find one," Mr Khatami added.

The parade opened Sacred Defence Week, which commemorates the war with the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. The conflict claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and no territory changed hands.

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