Tue, Mar 09, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Petraeus calls Iran ‘thugocracy’

NEW THREAT Iran announced it had developed a new line of cruise missiles that could be fired from ground-based launchers or ships to destroy 3,000-tonne targets

AFP AND AP , WASHINGTON AND TEHRAN

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, left, opens a new production line for short-range missiles at an undisclosed location in Iran on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, said on Sunday that Iran was becoming a “thugocracy” in attempts to suppress popular anger over last year’s contested presidential vote results.

“I think you’ve heard it said by pundits that Iran has gone from being a theocracy to a thugocracy,” Petraeus, whose command stretches from Egypt to Pakistan and includes Iran, said on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS.

“And that is again because of the emergence of this reform movement of the citizens who are outraged at the hijacking of the election that took place back last summer,” Petraeus said

Iran has executed protesters who took to the streets to demonstrate against the presidential election in June last year that saw Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to power despite widespread allegations of fraud.

The use of force against activists as well as Tehran’s continued enrichment of uranium in defiance of international entreaties have isolated a regime that has repeatedly spurned offers of engagement from US President Barack Obama.

Petraeus said it was not clear whether Tehran had definitively decided to pursue nuclear weapons, as many Western nations fear.

He said, however, that such a decision was “a little bit immaterial at this point in time, because all of the components of a program to produce nuclear weapons ... have been proceeding.”

The US is working with its UN Security Council veto-wielding partners — France, Britain, China and Russia — as well as Germany, to come up with new sanctions against Iran. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

In the past, Washington has struggled to convince Russia and China to back sanctions, but Moscow switched course recently after a new Iranian nuclear site was revealed.

Petraeus said Iranian actions were making it easier for the US to build a coalition, adding: “President Ahmadinejad is often our best recruiting officer.”

Meanwhile, Iran announced on Sunday that it has started a new production line of highly accurate, short range cruise missiles, which would add a new element to the country’s already imposing arsenal.

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi told Iranian state TV that the cruise missile, called Nasr 1, would be capable of destroying targets weighing up to 3,000 tonnes.

The minister said the missile can be fired from ground-based launchers as well as ships, but would eventually be modified to be fired from helicopters and submarines.

Western powers are already concerned about Iran’s military capabilities, especially the implications of its nuclear program.

Iran also boasts an array of short and medium-range missiles capable of hitting targets in the region, including Israel, US military bases in the region and much of Europe.

Tehran frequently makes announcements about new advances in military technology that cannot be independently verified.

General Vahidi said the production of the cruise missiles, which took two years to develop, showed that sanctions on Iran have failed. He said the cruise missiles would strengthen Iran’s naval power.

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