“Western states expect Iran to limit its missile program while they continue posing military threats against Iran,” supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a visit to an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) aerospace exhibition. “Such an expectation is foolish and stupid.”
Khamenei urged the IRGC not to be content with current levels of missile development but to advance production.
“The arrogant front tries to subdue Iran and force it to retreat but certainly it will never achieve this goal,” he said, adding that the IRGC exhibition delivered a message of Iranian capability, “and declares that ‘we can!’ ”
Khamenei viewed a spectrum of surface-to-surface missiles including the Sejil-2, a solid-fueled, two-stage ballistic missile with a range of around 1,200 miles, believed to be capable of reaching as far as south-eastern Europe.
Also on display was what was described as an Iranian replica of a U.S. surveillance drone downed in eastern Iran in 2011. Iranian media reports said the replica had been “developed by Iranian experts through reverse engineering.” (President Obama said later the U.S. had asked Iran to return it; Iran refused.)
Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – are scheduled to hold talks in Vienna from Tuesday to Friday. It is the fourth meeting aimed at crafting a comprehensive nuclear accord since last November’s interim “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA), a six-month agreement granting Tehran limited sanctions relief in exchange for limited curbs on its nuclear program.
The P5+1 did not include Iran’s missiles in the JPOA, but the chief U.S. negotiator in the talks, undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman, insists that they will be covered under a final agreement and disputes that the issue offers a “loophole” for Iran to exploit.
In previous congressional testimony she pointed out that the JPOA speaks of applicable U.N. Security Council resolutions being dealt with as part of a comprehensive agreement. Since those resolutions, adopted between 2006 and 2010, cite the ballistic missile threat, Sherman explained, this means that Iran’s missiles will be on the table.
As Khamenei made clear on Sunday, Iran doesn’t see it that way. The interim period laid down by the Joint Plan of Action is due to end on July 20, a little over two months’ time, but Tehran has given no public indication so far of a willingness to address its missiles in a final agreement.
The missile issue is significant because the increasingly sophisticated delivery systems already pose a conventional threat to U.S. forces and U.S. allies in the region. They could potentially carry non-conventional warheads in the future.
The U.S. intelligence community in a report last year assessed that “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.”
Meanwhile President Hasan Rouhani, a supposed “moderate,” said Sunday Iran would not take a single step backward from the achievements it has made in the nuclear field.
“We will not accept nuclear apartheid,” he said in a speech, implying that the West was discriminating against Iran by not wanting it to have the nuclear energy program it desires.
Iran maintains that international treaties give it the right to have a nuclear energy program as well as the right to enrich uranium domestically.
But because of suspicions that Iran has been using its civilian program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability Western and other nations have been uneasy about allowing it an enrichment program at home. Those suspicions lie behind the demand in all six
Security Council resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010 that Iran suspend “all” enrichment.
Domestic enrichment is not a prerequisite for a nuclear energy program: Of 24 non-nuclear weapons countries that have nuclear energy programs, only six enrich uranium at home.
Nonetheless, the U.S. and other P5+1 signatories to last November’s interim agreement signaled a willingness to give way on the long-held enrichment stance. The JPOA text says a comprehensive final deal will allow Iran to have “a mutually defined enrichment program.”
In his speech Sunday Rouhani warned the P5+1 not to claim, if a final deal is reached, that it prevented Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“The point is that Iran does not want atomic weapons,” he stated, citing an alleged fatwa by Khamenei declaring nuclear weapons to be prohibited.
Rouhani also said Iran was willing to show more transparency in its nuclear activities.