Iran has carried out several secret tests of missiles that could carry nuclear warheads, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, told MPs yesterday.
The claim, which drew an angry denial from Tehran, comes as the Iranian regime mounts a visible show of its military technology with 10 days of missile tests. One tested this week was capable of reaching Israel or the Gulf states.
Mr Hague told the Commons that Iran "has been carrying out covert ballistic missile tests and rocket launches, including testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload".
Those tests were in clear contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions forbidding Iran from developing a military nuclear programme, he added.
British officials said the nuclear tests took place separately from the current, publicly declared tests.
Britain believes that since last October, Iranian forces have carried out three secret tests of missiles that could be used to carry nuclear material. Britain has reported those tests to the United Nations, but has not previously made them public.
Iran has an active nuclear programme, which it insists is entirely for civilian energy use. But Western governments say it is trying to develop enriched uranium, which is required to construct a nuclear warhead.
Dr Liam Fox, Britain's defence secretary, has suggested that Iran could be in possession of a viable nuclear weapon as soon as next year, although most experts believe it could take longer.
Mr Hague's claim will fuel speculation that Tehran is stepping up its nuclear weapons programme amid growing concern about the so-called 'Arab Spring', which is challenging authoritarian regimes across the Middle East. So far, the Iranian regime has suppressed pro-democracy protests at home.
The International Atomic Energy Authority last month raised "concern" about possible secret nuclear weapons development. It said Iran was engaged in "high-voltage firing and instrumentation for explosives testing over long distances".
Earlier this month, Mr Hague announced new sanctions against Iran and told MPs: "We will maintain and continue to increase pressure on Iran to negotiate an agreement on their nuclear programme."
A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said: "None of the missiles tested by Iran is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead."
Mr Hague also repeated allegations that Iran had been helping the Syrian regime suppress democratic protests against President Bashar al-Assad. The Foreign Office claimed earlier this month that Tehran was providing riot control equipment and paramilitary training to the Syrian security forces.
Tehran "continues to connive in the suppression of legitimate protest in Syria", Mr Hague said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)