US warns Iran over threat to Israel
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran yesterday that the United States will not back down in the face of Iranian threats against Israel.
Iranian officials have strongly suggested the country's missile test on Wednesday was itself a warning to Israel not to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel has left that option open.
"We are sending a message to Iran that we will defend American interests and the interests of our allies," Rice said at the close of a three-day Eastern European trip.
Rice noted US efforts to increase its own security presence in the Persian Gulf and the defence capabilities of US allies there.
"We take very very strongly our obligations to help our allies defend themselves and no one should be confused about that," she said.
Rice tied the latest Iranian missile test and rhetoric to US plans for a future missile shield, which would theoretically protect Eastern Europe from missiles launched from Iran.
The system would place radar interceptors in the Czech Republic, a former Soviet satellite, and missiles in Poland. That has drawn protests from Russia, who says that's uncomfortably close.
Such a missile defence system "will make it more difficult for Iran to threaten and ... say terrible things, because their missiles won't work," Rice said.
Meanwhile, Iran test-fired more weapons yesterday as it continued war games in defiance of global concern over its launch of a broadside of missiles in the midst of efforts to end the nuclear crisis.
State television said the weapons fired in the Gulf by the naval section of the elite Revolutionary Guards included shore-to-sea, surface-to-surface and sea-to-air missiles.
It said the war games also included the firing of the Hoot (Whale) torpedo that Iran unveiled in April 2006 which it described then as a super-fast weapon capable of hitting enemy submarines.
Iran on Wednesday test-fired its Shahab-3 longer range missile, whose range includes Israel and US bases in the Gulf, and eight other more medium range missiles.
The move caused major concern in Western governments which fear Iran's nuclear drive is aimed at making atomic weapons, a charge that Tehran vehemently denies.
Rice's trip to Eastern Europe highlighted the troubled US relationship with Russia. Rice's visit began with a celebration of US plans to base anti-missile defences in countries once under the Soviet hand, and a warning from Russia that it may respond with unspecified military action. It ended with a public display of close US ties to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, a Russian nemesis.
Georgia's relations with Russia have deteriorated since Saakashvili came to power in 2004. Saakashvili is pushing for Georgia's integration into the West and its Nato military alliance; Moscow sees Georgia as part of its sphere of influence.
Appearing at a news conference with Rice, Saakashvili thanked the US for its support of Georgia's territorial integrity and criticised Russia for conducting what he called a "post Cold War land grab." He joked about an incident earlier this week in which Russian planes allegedly flew near the Georgian capital.
"It looks like some people have not noticed that the Cold War is over," he said.
Rice said Russia had a responsibility to restore stability in Georgia and that Russia should "behave in that way resolving and solving the problem and not contributing to it."
Earlier, Rice met with Georgian opposition politicians and social activists, telling them the United States supported Georgia's struggles for democracy and pluralism following flawed elections won earlier this year by Saakashvili, the US-backed president.
Rice had all but dared Moscow to critique her visit to this former Soviet republic locked in a shoving match with Russia that has seen Russia close its border with Georgia and impose trade and other restrictions.
Georgia has long accused Russia of aiming to annex Abkhazia and another separatist Georgian region, South Ossetia. Both have been outside the Georgian government's control since the end of separatist wars in the mid-1990s.
Russia does not formally recognise either region's separatist government, but it maintains close contacts with them and has granted passports to most of the regions' residents. Russia has peacekeeping forces in both regions; Georgia accuses the Russian forces of supporting the separatists.
Moscow recently sent in additional forces, a move Saakashvili denounced as "aggression."