Russia and the West would be making a big mistake if they ignored or underestimated the potential missile and nuclear threat coming from Iran, a Russian military expert has said.
"Iran is actively working on a missile development programme. I won't say the Iranians will be able to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles in the near future, but they will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe," said Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based Centre for Strategic Nuclear Forces.
Some Western and Russian sources claim that Iran may be currently running a programme, dubbed Project Koussar, to develop a totally different missile with a range of 4,000-5,000 km.
"Iran has long abandoned outdated missile technologies and is capable of producing sophisticated missile systems," Dvorkin told a press meet Thursday.
Iran successfully launched last year an upgraded Shahab-3 ballistic missile as part of a navy exercise, dubbed Great Prophet 3, in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
With a reported range of 2,000 km and armed with a one-tonne conventional warhead, the Shahab-3 puts Israel, Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan within striking distance.
Western powers led by the US, along with Israel, accuse Tehran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology for their delivery. Iran says it needs its nuclear programme for the peaceful generation of electricity and missile programme for space exploration.
Iran has consistently defied international demands to halt its nuclear programme and insists that it plans to use enriched uranium fuel produced at a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in its first domestically-built nuclear power plant. The plant in the town of Darkhovin is scheduled to become operational in 2016.
Tehran announced in late February that it had 6,000 operating centrifuges at Natanz and was planning to install a total of 50,000 over the next five years.
Commenting on the Iranian nuclear programme, Dvorkin said the potential danger of its military aspect was not the possibility of a nuclear strike against some countries, but the ability to assume a more bold approach in dealing with the international community after becoming a nuclear power.
"The real threat is that Iran, which is already ignoring all resolutions and sanctions issued by the UN Security Council, will be practically 'untouchable' after acquiring nuclear-power status, and will be able to expand its support of terrorist organisations, including Hamas and Hezbollah," the expert said.
He added that the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran could force non-nuclear countries to seek similar weapons and ballistic missile technologies thus starting a nuclear race and increasing the possibility of a nuclear conflict.
Dvorkin has had a role in writing all major strategy documents for the Strategic Nuclear Forces and the Strategic Missile Forces. As an expert in the field he participated in preparing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the START I and START II pacts, and has made a significant contribution to formulating Soviet and Russian positions at negotiations on strategic offensive arms control and reduction.