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Iran Missile Tests

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Published on Sep 28, 2009

Iran said it tested short-range missiles Sunday in a defiant gesture ahead of talks on its nuclear program, as diplomats noted Tehran is on the defensive over a hidden facility -- but the threat of international sanctions remains uncertain.

The missile exercise, which Iran labeled "Great Prophet 4," came on the heels of last week's revelation of what had been a secret uranium-enrichment plant near Qom, in north-central Iran.

Diplomats familiar with preparations for talks in Geneva Thursday say the Qom facility has transformed the outlook for the talks. It has given negotiators from the U.S. and its allies greater leverage to persuade Tehran to accept a so-called freeze-for-freeze proposal that it previously rejected, the diplomats said. Under that proposal Tehran would temporarily halt expansion of its nuclear-fuel program in exchange for no new United Nations sanctions, while a new round of wide-ranging talks begins.

A week ago, diplomats had been downbeat about prospects for the talks, after Russia had said it would block any meaningful new sanctions. That appeared to give Iran little incentive to agree to freeze its nuclear expansion. But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reopened the door to sanctions after the Qom facility's existence was revealed.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that Iran was now in a "very bad spot" internationally. Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," he said there was an "opportunity for severe additional sanctions." On CBS's "Face the Nation," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she doubts Iran will be able to a peaceful nature for its program. "We are going to put them to the test on October 1st," she said.

But the stance of key players Russia and China remained murky over the weekend. Each holds a Security Council veto over sanctions.

U.S. officials rejoiced at the strong Russian rhetoric from Mr. Medvedev last week. But some Western diplomats noted the Kremlin has shifted its rhetorical tone in the past as well. "Russia's position fluctuates within a band, going in cycles," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a government-sponsored journal. "Now the pendulum has shifted toward more pressure. ... If it gets to discussion of actual sanctions, there will be all kinds of differences" with the U.S. and other Western powers.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, widely viewed as more powerful than Mr. Medvedev -- and more skeptical of U.S. intentions -- hasn't said a word on about Qom. That, according to diplomats, is unusual on a major foreign-policy issue. And even Mr. Medvedev used gentler language last weekthan his Western counterparts.

China's reaction has been muted thus far. In a statement, the foreign ministry reiterated its stance that nonproliferation should be achieved "peacefully through negotiations." But there also are signs that China's leaders could be willing to take a tougher stance.

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