SEMNAN, Iran — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that his country had successfully test-fired a medium-range missile apparently capable of striking Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf region.
U.S. officials confirmed the launch, while arms control experts debated its significance. Several described it as evidence of continuing progress in Iran's missile program, if not a breakthrough. Iran fired a similar rocket last year.
Ahmadinejad announced the news to a crowd of thousands of people gathered for a speech in the city of Semnan. He said the missile struck its intended target, but he did not specify where it was.
"The rocket went into space, returned to Earth and hit its target," he said to raucous cheers in a soccer stadium lined with posters of himself.
The crowd of men and women, separated by sex according to Shiite tenets, repeatedly chanted "Ahmadinejad, we love you!" and "Ahmadinejad, we will vote for you!" during his 45-minute speech, which was broadcast live on Iranian television.
Ahmadinejad has long said Iran's nuclear program has strictly peaceful civilian purposes. But on Wednesday, he linked the missile test with that program, calling it an important scientific achievement and a blow to those trying to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"In the nuclear case, we send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show," Ahmadinejad said in his speech.
Gary Samore, the top White House counterproliferation official, said the missile was "a significant step forward in terms of Iran's capability to deliver weapons." But some experts said the missile was a new version of an existing missile that was successfully tested late last year and has a range of about 1,200 miles.
"The last launch, in November, didn't work as well, so here we have what appears to be a series of tests to try to master the technology and make it better," said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.