January 5, 2012

Iran Says It Successfully Test-fired a Medium-range Missile Close to the Straits of Hormuz

Iran Tests the West's Patience with Show of Might in Missile Launch

The Independent
January 2, 2012

Iran says it has successfully test-fired a medium-range missile close to the strategic Straits of Hormuz, a move that will test Western patience in the stand-off over its nuclear programme.

The surface-to-air missile was fired in international waters during a 10-day military exercise and is designed to elude radar detection and thwart jammers, Iran's state TV said on Sunday, adding that the weapon had been developed by Iranian scientists.

The announcement came a day after Barack Obama signed a law imposing tougher financial sanctions to penalise Iran for its nuclear-research programme. Tehran appeared to be sending the West a clear message that it could follow through on threats to close the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow shipping passage through which one-sixth of the world's oil supply passes, should the West impose sanctions on its energy industry.

Nevertheless, Iranian officials have stressed in recent days that Tehran has no plans to block the waterway right now, a move that analysts say would have a devastating impact on Iran's own economy and invite unwanted military retaliation.

The naval drills coincided with an announcement from Tehran that the country has made a significant advance in its nuclear programme, developing its first nuclear rod, a technological achievement necessary to make nuclear fuel that few believed Iran was capable of. It will play into Western fears that Iran is intent on developing an atomic bomb, a claim that Tehran has denied, insisting that its nuclear programme is peaceful and for civilian use.

Pressure on the West to impose tougher sanctions on Iran in a bid to halt its nuclear programme has increased following a report from the UN nuclear watchdog last November that presented fresh evidence Iran had pursued a nuclear-weapons programme until 2003. The agency was suspicious that some of the work was ongoing.

The EU has been mulling further sanctions, including measures against Iran's oil industry, which could be announced at meeting this month. Washington yesterday imposed new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and financial sector.

Iran, the second-largest oil producer in Opec after Saudi Arabia, relies on oil sales for 80 per cent of its foreign currency earnings.

Last week, Iranian officials promised that the country would not permit "even one drop of oil" to pass through the Straits of Hormuz should the West impose oil sanctions. But Western diplomats viewed the threat as posturing because such a move would almost certainly invite a military response, which Iran is thought to want to avoid.

An Iranian lawmaker reiterated the threat yesterday. "If we feel that the enemies want to prevent our oil exports, definitely we will close the Strait of Hormuz," Ismail Kowsari was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying.

Iran Test Fires Missile and Unveils Nuclear Breakthrough

Iran raised the stakes in an increasingly heated confrontation with the West on Sunday, test-firing a missile it said could not be detected by radar and claiming an unexpected breakthrough in its nuclear programme.

January 1, 2012

Responding defiantly to the imposition of fresh US sanctions, officials in Tehran announced that they had successfully produced and tested nuclear fuel rods in an advance that Western experts have long stated is beyond Iran's technological capabilities.

If true, the development would represent an important step in Iran's efforts to complete the nuclear fuel cycle, bringing it significantly closer to being able to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iranian state television reported that the rods had been inserted into the core of the Tehran Research Reactor, where the country's most highly enriched uranium is stored, ostensibly for the development of cancer-treating isotopes.

At the beginning of last year, Iran claimed that it had begun the process of creating fuel plates and rods at its nuclear plant in the central city of Isfahan. The claims were given scant credence in the West because the ability to manufacture the rods is possessed by only a handful of major nuclear powers.

The process of making a fuel rod requires the conversion of enriched uranium into uranium dioxide powder, which must then be pressed into small pellets that are inserted into thin metal tubes. These are then assembled in clusters for use in the core of a nuclear reactor. The rods can be used for civilian purposes, but if reprocessed could produce fuel for a nuclear weapon.

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