(by Thomas Erdbrink and Debbi Wilgoren, WashingtonPost.com) SEMNAN, Iran — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that his country had successfully launched a medium-range missile, just two days after President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu discussed the importance of halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The missile was test-fired in Semnan Province, east of Tehran. Ahmadinejad visited the province Wednesday as part of a campaign tour in advance of national elections June 12.
The hard-line Iranian leader told a crowd of several thousand that the missile — which according to previous descriptions by Iranian officials would be capable of striking Israel or U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf region — was an important scientific achievement. But he also described the launch in belligerent terms as a blow to those trying to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.
“In the nuclear case, we send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech at a soccer stadium that was broadcast live on Iranian television. “We say to the superpowers, who of you dare to threaten the Iranian nation? Raise your hand! But they all stand there with their hands behind their backs.
“Every center of power which wants to shoot a bullet, before it can put its finger on the trigger, we will cut its hands and send it to hell.”
Ahmadinejad said the launch involved a two-stage Sejil-2 missile that works on solid fuel and successfully struck its intended target. He did not specify the missile’s range. But Iran’s defense minister said in November that the country had test-fired a new ground-to-ground missile that was named Sejil and had “a range of close to 2,000 kilometers,” or about 1,200 miles. That range is similar to Iran’s existing Shahab-3 missile, the Associated Press reported.
In his remarks Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said that “in the short future we will launch longer rockets with bigger reach from this province.” …
Iran’s nuclear program was the top priority for Netanyahu when he visited Obama at the White House for the first time Monday. Although Iran’s leaders say they are working to create nuclear power only for civilian use, Netanyahu and others believe the program is designed to produce nuclear weapons, which Israel’s government views as an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Israel reacted to the news of the launch by saying Europe and the United States should share Israel’s goal of stopping Iran’s missile program. “In terms of strategic importance, this new missile test doesn’t change anything for us since the Iranians already tested a missile with a range of 1,500 kilometers, but it should worry the Europeans,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Radio. “If anybody had a doubt, it is clear the Iranians are playing with fire.”
Ayalon said Israel believes Iran is also trying to develop a ballistic missile with a range of 6,250 miles, which could reach the coast of the United States.
Obama acknowledged Monday that there is “deepening concern” in the global community about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But the White House is pushing Israel … to focus on better relations with its Arab neighbors as a way to step up international pressure on Iran.
Obama said Monday that he would wait until after Iran’s presidential election to directly engage its leaders. Obama said he should know by the end of the year whether talks and international pressure are dissuading Iran’s leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons.
After announcing the missile launch, Ahmadinejad denounced the sanctions that have been placed on Iran in an effort to put pressure on the country to halt weapons production. [He insisted that Iran would not give in to any pressure over its nuclear program. He said: “They (Western governments) said if you don’t stop, we will adopt (sanctions) resolutions. They thought we would retreat but that will not happen. I told them you can adopt 100 sets of sanctions but nothing will change.”]
President Ahmadinejad also said: “These are the hardest sanctions ever to be placed on a country. They can give us resolutions until their resolution making machine breaks down. All want dialogue with Iran, and we prefer this. But it should be in the framework of justice and respect.”
Wilgoren reported from Washington. Correspondent Howard Schneider contributed to this report from Jerusalem.
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1. What targets is Iran’s newest missile capable of hitting?
2. What did President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu discuss during their meeting this week?
3. What message did President Ahmadinejad say he was sending to the superpowers (U.S., etc.) after Iran’s successful missile launch?
4. What goal does Iran hope to achieve in the near future regarding its nuclear program, according to President Ahmadinejad?
5. Why did the Israeli government say that Europeans should be concerned by Iran’s missile test?
6. Re-read paragraphs 4-5, 13-14. Read the “Background” below the questions.
Israel has not ruled out a military strike to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.
President Obama said he should know by the end of the year whether talks and international pressure are dissuading Iran’s leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons.
What method do you think will be effective in halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Explain your answer.
How much time should the international community give Iran to end its nuclear program? Explain your answer.