BY ROBERT BURNS
June 17, 1997
Manama, Bahrain.--Iran's air force has conducted its first test launches of a newly acquired anti-ship cruise missile , Defense Secretary William Cohen disclosed today in arguing that Iran is a threat to world commerce.
The United States is concerned about Iran's increasingly sophisticated military clout, particularly its arsenal of cruise missiles , Cohen said at a news conference. Because they fly low, cruise missiles are difficult to detect on radar.
`Iran's words and actions suggest that it wants to be able to intimidate its neighbors and to interrupt commerce in the (Persian) Gulf,' Cohen said. `The United States will not allow this to happen.'
The U.S. allies in the Gulf are urging a more accommodating approach to Iran, despite U.S. misgivings. At each stop on his five-nation Gulf tour, Cohen has stressed what he calls Iran's threatening behavior and today said he had found the Gulf states `solidly united' with the United States.
Iran has had shore-based cruise missiles for more than a decade and last year acquired its first ship-launched version, a Chinese-made missile called C-802. Now it has begun testing a version that is fired from aircraft, Cohen said.
A senior U.S. military officer who elaborated on Cohen's disclosure on condition of not being identified by name told reporters that Iran conducted an initial test of the air-launched version on June 3 and a second test three days later. The cruise missiles , called C-801K, were launched from F-4 fighters, the officer said. He declined to predict when they would be fully operational.
`You have a 360-degree threat,' the officer said, referring to the combination of Iranian cruise missiles that could be fired from land, sea or air.
Sophisticated radar aboard U.S. ships in the Gulf are capable of detecting, identifying and tracking any cruise missiles in Iran's arsenal, the officer said.
At his news conference, Cohen said the air-launched cruise missile `complicates somewhat' the military operations of U.S. forces in the Gulf, `but not to the extent that it can't be overcome.'
Bahrain and other U.S. allies in the Gulf have not made a public issue of Iran's cruise missiles , but have long been fearful of Iran's overall military strength.
Another senior American military officer, speaking Monday on condition he not be further identified, said the moderate Gulf countries are more optimistic than the Clinton administration that the election in May of a more moderate Iranian leader offers a chance to improve relations.
Cohen, on the other hand, has said the Clinton administration will not ease its stance against Iran until Iran ends its support for terrorism, gives up trying to develop nuclear weapons and stops trying to undermine the Middle East peace process. Iran denies such conduct.
After his news conference in Manama, Cohen flew today to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to meet with government officials. He was winding up the day in Muscat, Oman, the last stop on his Gulf tour.
At a news conference Monday morning in Kuwait City, Cohen said it was too early to judge whether new Iranian President Mohammad Khatami would bring demonstrable change. The United States refuses to trade with Iran and has no diplomatic ties.
`We would look favorably, obviously, upon changes that are real, not simply paper promises,' Cohen said, adding that he remains to be convinced Iran will change. `Iran continues to pose a threat to the whole region,' he said.
In Manama, in an unrelenting heat that topped 110 degrees, Cohen strolled down a pier where three U.S. Navy ships and a U.S. attack submarine were tied up. He chatted with sailors and commanders and saw how a new remote-controlled surveillance craft skims around the pier, scanning the surface for potential security threats.
Aboard the USS Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer home-ported at San Diego and on its first-ever deployment, Cohen heard the ship's commander explain current operations--including Iraq embargo enforcement--by the 26 U.S. ships in the area.
Cmdr. Charles Martoglio, the Fitzgerald's commanding officer, told Cohen that the aircraft carrier USS Constellation was operating in the northern Gulf near Iran's territorial waters. He said Iranian land-based cruise missiles could reach the Constellation in less than 10 minutes.