Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says that missiles, not negotiations, are the key to his country’s future.
Khamenei’s remark, posted on his official website on March 30, came as Western powers called for the UN Security Council to consider possible action in response to Iran's recent ballistic-missile tests.
"Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors,” the website quoted him as saying.
His comment may have been directed at former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the leader of a relatively moderate Iranian political alliance who tweeted last week that Iran’s “future is in dialogue, not missiles.”
Khamenei also indicated he is ready to support efforts by Iran’s hard-line conservative Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to further develop ballistic missiles -- a display of defiance in the face of the Western concerns about missile tests.
“If the Islamic republic seeks negotiations but has no defensive power, it would have to back down against threats from any weak country,” he said.
Khamenei approved a landmark July 2015 deal with global powers under which Iran is scaling back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. But he has suggested the deal would not lead to a large-scale rapprochement with the West and been adamant that Tehran must maintain and develop its conventional military potential.
A 2010 photograph shows the test-firing in Iran of a surface-to-surface Qiam missile.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on March 30 that Iran’s test missile launches have caused “alarm and concern” and that it is up to the UN Security Council to decide what sanctions or measures should be applied.
A UN Security Council resolution adopted after Iran sealed the nuclear deal with six global powers -- veto-wielding permanent council members Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France, plus Germany -- calls for Tehran to refrain from launching any ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.
The United States, France, Britain, and Germany complained this week that Iran’s tests in early March of its Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile and Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile violated UN Security Council resolutions.
A report sent to the Security Council by those four countries says Iran’s ballistic tests are “destabilizing and provocative” because the missiles are “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
It asked Ban to report “fully and thoroughly” on any Iranian ballistic missile activity that is “inconsistent” with UN resolutions and for the Security Council to discuss “appropriate responses.”
Iran denies that its missiles are designed to carry nuclear weapons. The IRGC describes its tests as a demonstration of the country’s nonnuclear deterrent power.
Russia has dampened expectations of any UN Security Council action.
On March 14, when the Iranian test-firings were raised within the Security Council, Russia said the tests did not violate the 2015 resolution because “a call” is not an obligatory demand.
Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, defended Iran’s position on March 30.
Ulyanov said Moscow has not seen any evidence proving that Iran’s ballistic missiles can carry nuclear warheads.
The Kremlin also has potentially undermined Western attempts to deal with Iran’s ballistic tests by refusing to send a delegate to the Nuclear Security Summit that begins in Washington on March 31.
Russia is the only country among the so-called P5+1 powers that negotiated the 2015 Iran nuclear deal but is not attending the Washington summit. The deal requires Iran to scale back its nuclear program, which Tehran says is for solely peaceful purposes but Western countries fear has been a front for nuclear weapons development, in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iran’s compliance with its nuclear obligations is one of the items on the summit agenda.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, and TASS