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Iran Could Face "Knockout Blow" on Ballistic Missile Development: Report

Stepped up economic measures against Iran "could yet deal a knock-out blow to the country's development of long-range ballistic missiles," a British think tank said in a report this month (see GSN, July 13).

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies pointed to U.S. and European measures authorized since December 2011, including an EU embargo on imports of Iranian oil that took effect this month, and U.N. Security Council sanctions dating to June 2010. The penalties were aimed at pushing Tehran to compromise on operations that Western nations fear are intended to produce a nuclear-weapon capability; Iran says its atomic program is aimed only at energy production and other peaceful ends.

"There is mounting evidence to suggest that, whereas the sanctions regime has not prevented Tehran from operating an increased number of centrifuges for uranium-enrichment activities or adding to its stockpile of fissile material, it has stymied efforts to develop and produce the long-range ballistic missiles capable of striking potential targets in western Europe and beyond," according to the IISS report. "If sanctions continue to disrupt Tehran's access to the key propellant ingredients and components needed to produce large solid-propellant rocket motors, Iranian attempts to develop and field long-range ballistic missiles could be significantly impeded, if not halted altogether."

The report focuses on Iranian development of its two-stage, solid-propellant Sajjil 2, a delivery vehicle designed to fly up to 1,250 miles. The missile if operational could be launched much more quickly than the 30 minutes needed to fire the liquid-propelled Shahab 3; it would also offer greater precision and an extended flight distance.

Iran started work on the Sajjil 2 roughly 12 years ago, but has not conducted a trial flight since February of last year.

"While it is impossible for outsiders to identify the precise reasons behind the stalled Sajjil 2 program, it is reasonable to conclude that trade sanctions have disrupted Iran's access to key propellant ingredients and compromised development efforts. If true, and if future applications of sanctions prevent Iran from establishing a reliable source of propellant ingredients regulated by the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Islamic Republic will not be able to create missiles capable of threatening western Europe, much less the United States, before the end of this decade," according to the IISS report (International Institute for Strategic Studies report, July 2012).

The U.S. Defense Department said last month that if Iran receives “sufficient foreign assistance," it "may be technically capable of flight-testing” an ICBM before 2016. Some issue experts, though, have played down Iran's progress toward a continent-spanning missile.

United Press International on Friday quoted an issue expert as saying that "Iran's security has become increasingly dependent on its missile arsenal as its other deterrent capabilities have deteriorated" (United Press International, June 20).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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Country Profile

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Iran

This article provides an overview of Iran's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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