MOSCOW — The confrontation between Iran and the United States seemed to sharpen Thursday as Iran said it tested missiles for a second day and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would defend its allies and protect its interests against an attack.
Rice was speaking in the former Soviet republic of Georgia at the end of a three-day tour of Eastern Europe. Shortly after she spoke, state-run media in Iran began reporting the new missile tests, which it said included a relatively new torpedo.
Iranian state television showed a missile blasting off in darkness, trailed by a fiery exhaust plume. The television reports said the new tests took place Wednesday night and into Thursday.
"We will defend our interests and defend our allies," Rice said at a news conference in Georgia. "We take very, very strongly our obligations to defend our allies and no one should be confused of that."
The remarks came amid increasingly tense exchanges between Iran and the United States over Iran's civilian nuclear program, which Washington and many Western governments have warned could be used to cloak the development of a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran has repeatedly denied. The Bush administration has refused to rule out a military option, and last month Israel's air force rehearsed what U.S. intelligence officials described as a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Israel has vowed to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and on Thursday it joined the battle of words, according to Reuters. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that he favored diplomatic pressure and sanctions, but that, "Israel is the strongest country in the region and has proved in the past it is not afraid to take action when its vital security interests are at stake."
A private group of scientists in the United States interpreted the situation as a battle of exaggeration waged by both the Iranians and the Bush administration, Iran overstating the strength of its missiles and the United States overstating the need for missile defenses.
"Iran frequently exaggerates the capability of its missiles, and it appears it is continuing that tradition with this week's tests," said David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Meanwhile, the Bush administration is using Iran's missile tests to promote the U.S. antimissile system in Eastern Europe that has never been shown to work in a real-world situation."