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Iran says has built new long-range missile
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Tuesday it had built a new missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,250 miles), a step analysts said could add more power to Tehran's conventional arsenal when tensions over its atomic plans are rising.
Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar did not say how the new weapon differed from the Shahab-3, a missile officials had previously said could hit targets 2,000 km away, far enough to reach Iran's arch-foe Israel.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has never aimed to launch an attack on any country. It will never do so. But if someone wants to invade Iran, they will face a crushing response by the armed forces," Najjar said, the state broadcaster's Web site reported.
Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end a row over Iran's nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at building atomic bombs. Tehran says it wants to master technology to produce electricity not make warheads.
Iran's failure to convince world powers of its peaceful intentions has prompted two rounds of U.N. sanctions and the United States is pushing for a third, tougher set of penalties.
"The construction of the Ashoura missile, with the range of 2,000 km, is among the accomplishments of the Defence Ministry," the minister told a gathering of the Basij religious militia, holding maneuvers this week, Iranian media reported.
Iran unveiled another new missile, Ghadr-1, with a range of 1,800 km (1,125 miles) at a military parade in September and, at that time, referred to the Shahab-3 as having a range of just 1,300 km (810 miles). Prior to the parade and since then, officials said the Shahab-3 could reach targets 2,000 km away.
Najjar also said a new Iranian-built submarine would be delivered to the navy on Wednesday.
The minister gave no details about the new weapons.
Iran regularly says it has made major advances in its weaponry. Western experts say it rarely gives enough detail to confirm the capabilities.
A French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said France was concerned about the spread of ballistic missile technology.
"We are concerned by this news and it shows that it is necessary to be extremely vigilant regarding Iran's intentions and actions," Pascale Andreani told a news conference.
Some weapons Iran says are home-made are based on equipment supplied by China and North Korea or modifications of U.S. arms bought before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Western experts say.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a weapons expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the Ashoura was probably a longer range version of the Shahab-3 and said, since 2005, there had been evidence Iran was working on a new model.
"I think it's a pretty strong likelihood that Iran has received technology that has extended the range of their missiles, and maybe the development of a whole new missile with a longer range," he said.
"I think it's a very plausible possibility, but there is no confirmed evidence that they have perfected this technology."
While no technological match for U.S. forces, experts say Iran's military could still disrupt Gulf oil shipping routes.
Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari had said on Saturday his force would take delivery of a new submarine this week ahead of naval exercises planned for February in the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.
"We have no plans to close the Strait of Hormuz but we are ready to carry out any operation so as to guard our interests," Sayyari was quoted as saying in an Iranian newspaper.
Iran has said "martyrdom-seeking" Basijis, seen as guardians of Islamic revolutionary values, could hit Gulf shipping lanes.
Iran has said it would target U.S. interests in the region if it came under attack.
(Additional reporting by Luke Baker in London and Paris bureau; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Diana Abdallah)
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