July 14, 2008 / 9:41 AM / 10 years ago

Iran says missile tests boost its position in talks

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s missile tests last week will strengthen its position in diplomatic efforts to resolve an international standoff over its disputed nuclear plans, a senior official was quoted as saying on Monday.

“The maneuvers helped the Islamic Republic to go to the negotiating table with a full hand,” Deputy Defence Minister Nasrullah Ezatti said, according to official IRNA news agency.

He was speaking five days before Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was expected to meet European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Geneva.

In June, Solana presented Tehran with a package of economic and other incentives proposed by world powers to coax it to halt sensitive nuclear work the West fears is aimed making bombs.

Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, says it is only aiming to produce electricity. It has repeatedly refused to suspend uranium enrichment, as demanded by the six powers before formal negotiations can begin on the offer.

Tension increased last week after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards tested missiles in the Gulf and the United States reminded Tehran that it was ready to defend its allies. Fears of conflict helped to push oil prices to new record highs.

Western diplomats say the powers — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have conditionally offered to hold preliminary talks ahead of formal discussions.

“RAINED WITH MISSILES”

Even for preliminary talks, the big powers say Tehran must freeze any expansion of its nuclear program in return for the U.N. Security Council halting further sanctions measures.

Iran has given no indication it will accept such a freeze.

“In the nuclear debate, the other party had claimed that Iran should first accept suspension of enrichment so there would be the possibility of negotiation,” Ezatti said.

But with the Iran’s resistance, “it was ultimately the opposing party which succumbed to the Iranian desire,” he said.

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants but also, if refined much more, as material for nuclear bombs.

A senior Iranian official, who on Saturday said Iran would target Israel and 32 U.S. bases in the region if the Islamic Republic was attacked, said its missile capability had “intimidated” the United States and the Jewish state.

“ ... if the enemy does not see us strong it would stage an attack against us,” said Mojtaba Zolnour, who is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s deputy representative in the Guards.

He added, according to IRNA: “If the United States or Israel throw one missile at Iran, before the missile hits Iran ... all of their bases will be rained with missiles.”

Some U.S. facilities across the Gulf are little more than 200 km (124 miles) from Iran’s coast, with air and naval bases in nearby Arab states such as Qatar and Bahrain.

But military analysts say Iran’s real ability to respond to any attack could be with more unconventional tactics, such as deploying small craft to hit oil tankers, or using allies in the area to strike at U.S. or Israeli interests.

Writing by Fredrik Dahl

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