London: Iran is unlikely to be able to make a missile capable of hitting the US east coast for more than a decade, according to a study by a London-based thinktank released on Monday.
The timing of advances in Iran`s long-range missile technology is being closely watched in Washington, which accuses Tehran of pursuing nuclear weapons and is pushing for a new round of sanctions.
Iran denies the charges and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The report by International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said Iran`s missile development program appeared connected to its push to expand its nuclear capabilities, "with the aim of giving Iran the capability to deliver nuclear warheads beyond its borders."
But IISS said it expected Iran would seek to master intermediate range missiles -- between 3,500 and 5,500 km (2,187 to 3,437 miles) -- before it attempted to build intercontinental (ICBM) missiles, which have a range above 5,500 km.
"Logic and the history of Iran`s revolutionary missile and space launcher development efforts suggest Tehran would develop and field an intermediate range missile before embarking on a program to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the American East coast, 9,000 km away," it said.
"It is thus reasonable to conclude that a notional Iranian ICBM, based on No-Dong and Scud technologies, is more than a decade away from development," it added, referring to missiles developed by the former Soviet Union and later North Korea.
The IISS report appeared in line with a May 2009 US National Intelligence Estimate that deemed Tehran unlikely to have a long-range missile until between 2015 and 2020, according to US officials who saw the report at the time. The 2009 estimate was revised from an earlier range of 2012 to 2015.
However on April 19 this year, an unclassified Defense Department report on Iran`s military said that with sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be able to build a missile capable of striking the United States by 2015.
Turning to a potential Iranian missile threat to Europe, the IISS report, "Iran`s Ballistic Missile Capabilities," said that Iran was not likely to field a liquid-fueled missile capable of targeting Western Europe before 2014 or 2015.
And a version of its solid-fueled Sejil missile capable of delivering a one metric ton warhead at a range of 3,700 km was at least four or five years away from deployment, it said.
Experts say solid-fueled missiles are of particular concern because they take a much shorter time to prepare for launch than liquid-fueled weapons and so are harder to pre-empt.
The report said the Sejil represented the most significant advance in Iranian missile capacities to date.
But it said the Sejil-2, successfully flight-tested for the first time in November 2008, was still two to three years of flight testing away from becoming an operational system.
The military utility of Iran`s existing ballistic missiles was severely limited because of their very poor accuracy, although it said the missiles could be used as a political weapon against adversary cities.