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Clinton: Nuclear Iran `Extraordinary Threat'


A nuclear Iran would spark an arms race in Middle East said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. Speaking before a Senate Appropriations panel, Clinton affirmed the administration's opposition to Iran achieving nuclear capabilities and called it an "extraordinary threat."

As far as handling the situation, Clinton said that U.S. policy would continue for now to rely on diplomatic pressure with the goal of persuading Iran that pursuing a nuclear weapons program makes it less secure.

Pentagon Confirms Test of Iran Missile That Can Reach Israel

By Al Pessin (VOA-Pentagon) &

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has confirmed that Iran has tested a medium range ballistic missile that can reach Israel, southeastern Europe and U.S. bases in the Middle East. A Pentagon spokesman said the test "is consistent" with U.S. concerns about Iran's effort to develop ballistic missiles and its nuclear program.

Gates confirmed the Iranian test during an appearance before a House of Representatives committee. "The information that I have read indicates that it was a successful flight test. The missile will have a range of approximately 2,000 to 2,500 kilometers. Because of some of the problems they've had with their engines, we think, at least at this stage of the testing, it's probably closer to the lower end of that range. Whether it hit the target that it was intended for, I have not seen any information on that."

President Barack Obama is trying to engage diplomatically with Iranian leaders, in an effort to settle differences over its missile and nuclear programs, and other issues. After the latest test, his spokesman confirmed that the president still believes it makes sense to do that. But the president said this week that if he does not get a positive response by the end of the year, he will reassess his policy.

Iran continues to say that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, but U.S. officials disagree. Still, experts say while Iran is making progress in its missile program, the technology involved in putting a nuclear warhead on a missile is much more complicated.

The Sejil-2 missile is an upgraded version of a surface-to-surface missile with a range of about 2,000 km., according to Iran's IRNA news agency.

IRNA, the Iranian news agency, reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "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. 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 told a cheering crowd in Semnan, northern Iran, where the launch reportedly took place.

Ahmadinejad insisted once again that Iran would not give in to any pressure over its nuclear program. "They [Western governments] said if you don't stop, we will adopt [sanctions] resolutions... They thought we would retreat but that will not happen," he said. "I told them you can adopt 100 sets of sanctions, but nothing will change."

CIA Warns Israel: `Don't Attack Iran Alone'


The head of the Central Intelligence Agency has warned Israel not to go it alone and attack Iran's nuclear installations. "The last thing we need in the Middle East is a nuclear arms race," said Leon Panetta in an interview published in the quarterly Global Viewpoint.

Panetta said the American intelligence community is well aware that Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East, regardless of the passive stance taken by the White House. "The threat posed by Iran has our full attention. Even though the administration is moving toward diplomatic engagement with that country, no one is naïve about the challenges," he said.

Nonetheless, unlike their Israeli counterparts, U.S. intelligence officials apparently do not believe that Iran is actively involved in developing a nuclear weapon at present. Rather, the Islamic Republic is simply laying the groundwork for such preparations, he clarified.

"It is our judgment that Iran halted weaponization in 2003," said Panetta, "but it continues to develop uranium enrichment technology and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles."

The missile firing places in question a Tuesday report by the U.S.-based EastWest Institute, which offered the assessment that it would take Iran at least six to eight years to produce a missile capable of delivering a warhead at a 2,000-kilometer range.

The report, which was prepared by a team of six U.S. nuclear experts and six Russian experts, furthermore stated that Iran would not be able to produce even a simple nuclear device for at least another one to three years.

Netanyahu: Israel Ready to Speak to Syria, Palestinians

By VOA News

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he told President Barack Obama that Israel is willing to immediately open peace talks with Syria and the Palestinians.

But Netanyahu said he also made it clear to Obama that any peace deal must address Israel's security needs. The prime minister spoke Wednesday upon his return to Israel after a three-day trip to the United States.

During talks Monday in Washington, Obama urged Netanyahu to make serious progress toward peace with the Palestinians. Obama also reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu has not endorsed the two-state solution.

Regarding Syria, Turkish-mediated talks between Israel and its neighbor were suspended in December when Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip. A key issue in talks between Israel and Syria is the Golan Heights, a strategic region that Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Netanyahu has said Israel would not return the Golan Heights for the sake of peace with Syria. Syria has said it would only accept a peace deal that includes the return of the Golan Heights.

Iran Detains Israeli Orange Agents


Iran has arrested individuals behind a scheme to "smear the government" through importing alleged Israeli oranges into the country.

"We are absolutely certain that the oranges were not imported from Israel and that the stickers were fabricated," Iran's Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

"It is obvious that the move was aimed to smear the government and overshadow its anti-racism activities," he explained. "[In addition to those detained,] some people have been summoned or invited for further study of the case, the result of which will be announced accordingly," the minister went on to say.

The oranges which were allegedly imported from Israel sparked controversy in Iran, as Tehran bans any sort of dealings with Tel Aviv. The oranges had stickers with a sign that read Jaffa Sweetie Israel PO. However, they were distributed in boxes bearing 'Made in China' imprints.

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