A month after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright invited Iran to establish normal relations, Republican lawmakers are expressing alarm over the implications of Iran's test of a missile capable of hitting much of the Middle East.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Near East, said Wednesday's test creates "a new and incredibly more dangerous environment for the Middle East."Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said if Iran has a missile capable of threatening its neighbors, "what is to stop them from developing the means to deliver such a weapon upon the United States and any of our allies?"
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., reiterated calls for a national missile defense system and accused the administration of consistently misleading the public about threats to the nation's security.
"We've been telling the administration for over a year the Russians are helping the Iranians," Gingrich said Thursday. "We are tired of the Clinton-Gore administration misleading us."
At the State Department, spokesman James P. Rubin also expressed concern about the test but said the most prudent course was to engage Iran so that such issues could be dealt with directly between the two countries.
At the time last month when Albright called for steps toward normal relations, she did so "with her eyes wide open," Rubin said, adding that the secretary was well aware of Iran's dark side.
He added that despite the test, Iran's missile capability is still in the developmental stage.
He said Iran obtained the technology from North Korea, disputing suggestions of a Russia and Chinese role in assisting the Iranians. He indicated that the test does not cancel out what he described as the positive actions Iran has taken in such areas as terrorism and curbing drug trafficking since President Mohammad Khatami's inauguration a year ago.