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Iran Launches a Missile and a Presidential Race

Test of a new rocket adds to nuclear concerns discussed earlier by Obama and Netanyahu at the White House. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Correction attached

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week, Iran test-fired a new missile. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the launch to a crowd in Semnan province, his birthplace and a base for missile launches.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (translator): "The Sejil-2 missile, which has very advanced technology, was launched from Semnan and it landed precisely on the target."

Officials say the solid-fuel rocket could reach Israel, southeastern Europe and American bases in the Middle East.

American Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Iranian missile will be able to travel up to two thousand five hundred kilometers. But because of engine problems, he says, the range right now is probably closer to two thousand kilometers.

Wednesday's test came two days after Benjamin Netanyahu, the new Israeli prime minister, visited President Obama. It was their first meeting as leaders. Next week, the Palestinian and Egyptian presidents visit the White House.

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu both spoke of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

BARACK OBAMA: "I firmly believe it is in Iran's interest not to develop nuclear weapons, because it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and be profoundly destabilizing in all sorts of ways."

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: "If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it could give a nuclear umbrella to terrorists, or worse it could actually give terrorists nuclear weapons, and that would put us all in grave peril."

Iran says its nuclear program is for energy. But the latest test only added to concerns about missiles that could one day carry nuclear weapons. Israel points out that President Ahmadinejad has said the Jewish State should be "wiped off the map."

President Obama still has to decide the future of a Bush administration plan to put a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia objects. But the United States says the system would protect Europe from a possible attack by Iran.

President Obama says he is trying to reach out to the Iranians with diplomacy. But he says there must be a "clear timetable" for talks about protecting their security without threatening other people's security.

There should be some sense by the end of the year, he says, whether or not serious progress is being made.

BARACK OBAMA: "We are not going to have talks forever. We are not going to create a situation in which talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds with developing a nuclear and deploying a nuclear weapon."

Iran's presidential election is June twelfth. President Ahmadinejad is seeking a second term. He will face three other candidates chosen this week from more than four hundred fifty who entered the race.

One of those he will face is Mir Hossein Mousavi. The former prime minister along with former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi are both seen as reformist. Iran's Guardian Council also approved the candidacy of President Ahmadinejad and Mohsen Rezai, former head of the Revolutionary Guards. Both men are conservative.

The president's opponents have criticized his handling of the economy -- inflation is high. But he has won praise at home for his support for developing satellite and rocket technology. Iran launched its first satellite into orbit in February -- the thirtieth anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.


Correction: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak canceled a planned visit to Washington, after the death of his 12-year-old grandson.