Tehran unveils long-distance bomber drone


IRAN HAS unveiled an unmanned, long-distance bomber drone described by the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as “an ambassador of death” to Tehran’s enemies.

At a ceremony yesterday, Mr Ahmadinejad said the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – named Karrar (“striker” in Persian) – had “a main message of peace and friendship” but was intended to deter aggression “and keep the enemy paralysed in his bases”.

The presentation came as technicians began fuelling the Islamic republic’s first nuclear power station, at Bushehr, in a development Israel has described as “totally unacceptable”.

The US and Britain say the Bushehr plant, monitored by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, poses no proliferation threat because Russia is supplying the nuclear fuel and will remove the spent fuel rods, minimising any risk they could be used to make weapons.

Iran is under UN sanctions to force a halt to uranium enrichment because of fears it secretly plans to build nuclear weapons. It flatly denies such intentions.

Ahmed Vahidi, the Iranian defence minister, said the Karrar had a range of 620 miles, not far enough to reach Israel.

Iranian state TV reported the UAV could carry four cruise missiles, two 250lb bombs or one 500lb bomb. The drone was the latest military hardware inaugurated by Iran against continuing tension over the nuclear issue.

On Friday, Tehran test-fired a new surface-to-surface missile called the Qiam (“rising“). It has already developed long-range missiles capable of hitting Israel and eastern Europe and of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Earlier this month, the Debka file website, reported the father of Iran’s UAV programme, Reza Baruni, had been assassinated in a bomb attack in his home town of Ahwaz, in Khuzestan. There has been no confirmation of this claim from any other source.

It is widely believed western intelligence services, Israel and perhaps Arab countries have been seeking to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme.

Iranian media previously reported the successful test of a radar-evading “stealth” drone with bombing capabilities. In March 2009, US fighter jets in Iraq shot down an unmanned Iranian spy drone, generating concern in Washington.

On Saturday, Mr Ahmadinejad warned any attack against Iran would be “suicidal”. Still, the threat of pre-emptive military action that could ignite war across the Middle East may be receding. Obama administration officials were reported last week to have told Israel they believe Iran is one year away from a nuclear weapon.

The New York Timesquoted Israeli officials as saying their assessments were coming into line with Washington’s view, but they remain suspicious Iran has a secret uranium enrichment site – after one was revealed in a mountainside near Qom last September as sanctions moves intensified.

Israel, an undeclared atomic power, which, unlike Iran, has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, has often warned it cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran and hinted it may attack it, as it did Iraq’s reactor in 1981.

Iran declares a willingness to return to nuclear talks with the EU, but the nature of negotiations has yet to be defined. Nothing has happened since October.

Mr Ahmadinejad was quoted in a Japanese newspaper on Friday as saying Iran would be prepared to stop higher-grade uranium enrichment if it was guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies for a research reactor. But the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last week that Iran would not talk to the US unless sanctions and military threats were lifted.