WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the White House this week he was giving Iran till the end of the year to comply with U.S. diplomatic efforts to get it to cease its nuclear weapons program, but he may not have that much time. On Wednesday Iran announced it had successfully tested a medium-range rocket. The Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface missile has a range of 1,240 miles -- and Israel is well within that radius. So is Athens, the capital of Greece, and so is southern Italy.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke of the test Wednesday, not long after he was confirmed as one of four candidates in Iranian presidential elections on June 12
"I was told that the missile is able to go beyond the atmosphere then come back and hit its target. It works on solid fuel," Ahmadinejad said during a speech in Semnan in northern Iran.
"The defense minister told me today that we launched a Sejil-2 missile, which is a two-stage missile, and it has reached the intended target," he added.
Ahmadinejad told the Farsi news agency that the Sajil-2 was powered by a solid fuel propellant. This allows the missile to be smaller, making it more difficult to intercept, and solid fuels usually permit greater acceleration after launching.
The U.N. Security Council, prodded by the United States, has approved three different sets of economic sanctions against Iran to try and peacefully force it to abandon its nuclear and long-range missile programs. But Tehran enjoys excellent relations with Russia and China and enjoys observer status in the Russian and Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization. So the Iranians certainly do not feel isolated.
Ahmadinejad made that clear in his comments Wednesday. "They thought we would retreat but that will not happen. I told them you can adopt 100 sets of sanctions, but nothing will change," he stated.
The timing of the test may have been in part intended to boost Ahmadinejad's own political prospects. He is running for re-election to another four-year term as president of Iran. Many of his domestic policies and his economic record have been very unpopular. But he has been approved as one of the four candidates for the election on June 12, and with the strong support of the nation's Shiite Muslim religious establishment, he still looks the favorite to win.
U.S. intelligence analysts have downplayed previous Iranian claims of successful missile tests. However, Iran does appear to now have a relatively reliable limited intermediate-range ballistic missile capability. And on Feb. 3 Tehran successfully launched its first satellite into orbit. The multi-stage missile that carried the payload could just as easily have carried a nuclear warhead halfway around the world to Washington or New York in little more than 30 minutes.
On March 1, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Iran already had enough nuclear material to make a nuclear weapon. He called Iran's development of a nuclear weapon "a very, very bad outcome for the region."
Mullen's comments were especially significant because they served notice that the U.S. defense establishment has quietly shelved the controversial and -- at the time -- much criticized National Intelligence Estimate last year that said Iran was still at least five years away from developing nuclear weapons and the delivery systems to carry them.
Iran has been building up its nuclear installations for a long time. They have never been systematically attacked by the U.S. Air Force. Iran has had close, highly effective links for at least 20 years with both North Korea and Pakistan. As UPI Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave has documented, A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, has brokered deals with Iran and acted as a middleman to funnel much crucial technology to Tehran. Iran also enjoys extremely warm diplomatic relations with Russia and China, and Russia is now close to finishing at last the Bushehr nuclear reactor complex in Iran.
Consequently, Iran has moved far faster and more effectively than most U.S. pundits imagined or predicted. Wednesday's missile test reveals there are no signs it is slowing down.