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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is on assignment. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Iranian officials contend they are responding to hostile rhetoric from the United States and Israel. That is their explanation for firing a long-range missile today. The test shot comes as the world is trying to persuade Iran to abandon any ambitions for nuclear weapons, and we have more today from NPR's Ivan Watson.

IVAN WATSON: Iranian state TV broadcast footage of nine missiles being test-fired in the desert this morning. Among them was a Shahab-3 missile. With its range of some 1,200 miles, the weapon could reach Israel from Iranian territory. An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander called the exercise a clear message to Iran's enemies.

Revolutionary Guard Naval Commander Morteza Saffari(ph) told Iranian television, quote, "We are fully prepared to counter any possible enemy aggression or adventurism. This maneuver sent out a message that we can secure the Persian Gulf."

Tensions have escalated between Tehran and Washington amid reports that America's close ally, Israel, conducted military exercises last month to train for a possible attack against Iran. At issue is Iran's nuclear program. Tehran insists it is developing nuclear power for peaceful energy needs.

Western governments fear the Iranians are trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran's foreign minister recently suggested that his government would be willing to open a new round of negotiations on the nuclear program with the European Union. But yesterday an influential cleric who serves as an advisor to Iran's supreme leader issued a much more bellicose statement.

In the event of an attack, warned Ali Shi Razi(ph), Tehran would retaliate. The first targets, he added, would be the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and U.S. shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.

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