Iran test-fires new missile: media

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has test-fired a new air-to-surface missile, Iranian media reported Sunday, in the Islamic Republic’s latest display of its military capability.

The missile test was carried out despite the offer by the administration of new U.S. President Barack Obama to engage Iran in direct talks if it “unclenches its fist.”

Iran’s Fars News Agency said the domestically produced missile had a range of 110 km (70 miles) and was designed for use by military aircraft against naval targets.

“Now these jet fighters have acquired a new capability in confronting threats,” the semi-official news agency said. Iran’s Press TV initially said a long-range missile had been tested, but later also used Fars’ way of describing it.

Iran often stages war games or tests weapons to show its determination to counter any attack by foes such as Israel and the United States.

Israel and Washington accuse Tehran of trying to develop nuclear bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful drive to generate electricity so that the world’s fourth-largest oil producer can export more of its gas and crude.

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Israel, believed to be the only nuclear-armed Middle East state, has said Iran’s nuclear plans threaten its existence and has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end the dispute.

Iran has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway between the Gulf and the Sea of Oman through which about 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is shipped.

One Western defense analyst said he believed the missile test was a signal by Iran that “we can severely disrupt traffic” in the Gulf if attacked.

“That’s what would be the frightening thing for the West and the Middle East,” Andrew Brookes of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London said by phone.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the Iranian press reports.

Military experts say Iranian missiles often draw on technology from China, North Korea or other countries.

“They’ve taken Chinese missile technology and converted and developed it to take out ships,” said Brookes. “It is not a new development, it has been going on for some years.”

The air-to-surface missile’s range of 110 km would be far less than that of the surface-to-surface Shahab missile, which Iranian officials say can travel about 2,000 km, enabling it to reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf.

A top Iranian military commander last week said that Iranian missiles could now reach Israeli nuclear sites. Iran has often said it has missiles able to reach the Jewish state but had not previously mentioned such specific targets.

Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Charles Dick