March 4, 2009 / 6:54 PM / 11 years ago

Iran missiles can reach Israel atom sites: commander

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian missiles can now reach Israeli nuclear sites, a top Iranian military commander said on Wednesday, but another official held out the prospect of progress in talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

An Iranian surface-to-surface missile rests on a launch platform in preparation for a test firing at an undisclosed location in the Iranian desert in this image released to Fars News by the military November 12, 2008. REUTERS/FARS NEWS

Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said a breakthrough was possible if negotiations were conducted on an “equal footing” and insisted on Iran’s right to nuclear power.

While he spoke of a possible breakthrough on the nuclear dossier, remarks by the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards on Iran’s missile capabilities were more strident.

“Today, ... Iran has missiles with the range of 2,000 km (1,250 miles), and based on that all Israeli land including that regime’s nuclear facilities are in the range of our missile capabilities,” Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said in comments carried by the ISNA news agency.

Israel has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end the row over Iran’s nuclear aims, echoing U.S. policy, though U.S. President Barack Obama has also offered to engage Iran in direct talks if it “unclenches its fist.”

Iran has often said it had missiles able to reach the Jewish state but has not until now mentioned such specific targets.

Defense analyst Paul Beaver questioned whether the missiles could hit long-range targets accurately. “I would be very surprised if Iran has yet reached that level of sophistication,” he said, speaking from London.

NUCLEAR SECRECY

Israel, believed to be the only nuclear-armed Middle East state, dismissed the comments.

“It’s not our practice to respond to every belligerent and extreme statement of the Iranian leadership,” said government spokesman Mark Regev.

Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, says its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity not making bombs but its failure to convince world powers about the peaceful nature of its work has led to three rounds of U.N. sanctions.

The IAEA said on Wednesday that Iran had strayed from non-proliferation obligations by ceasing to provide advance data on nuclear plans and allow inspector visits to a planned heavy water reactor.

Johan Rautenbach, head of the IAEA legal affairs office, told an IAEA governors’ meeting Iran’s refusal to let inspectors visit the reactor “adversely affects the agency’s ability to ensure that no diversion pathways are built into the facility.”

But he said this did not mean Iran was in “non-compliance” with rules, a finding that could warrant further U.N. Security Council action.

Since taking office in January, Obama has talked of engaging Iran on its nuclear work and other issues, breaking with the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush.

But he has warned of more sanctions if Iran does not stop enriching uranium, which has both military and civilian uses.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on policy, criticized the U.S. president for “talking about unconditional commitment to Israel’s security,” saying he was on the same “wrong path” as Bush.

One Iranian analyst said Khamenei may be restating Iran’s tough line to make clear Tehran would not easily give up regional policies that could be bargaining chips in any talks.

“He is saying you also have to change if you want us to change,” said the analyst, who asked not be named.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Mark Heinrich in Vienna; editing by Jon Boyle

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