A senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Monday that the Islamic Republic is capable of extending the range of its ballistic missiles beyond its current 2,000 kilometer (1,240 mile) limit, and has not done so until now only due to a lack of need.
“We have the capability to build missiles with higher ranges,” IRGC Aerospace Force commander Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said, according to the Fars news agency. “The number 2,000 kilometers is not a divine decree… what has been decided until today is based on our needs.”
He noted that many “enemy bases” were located 300-800 kilometers from the country’s borders.
But Tehran was not limited by technical knowledge or by any international conventions on pursuing longer-range missiles, he said.
Iran has been under pressure to rein in its missile program. US President Donald Trump earlier this year pulled Washington out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, putting sanctions back in place. The administration cited a lack of curbs on Iranian missile development as one of the flaws of the agreement.
US special envoy for Iran Brian Hook last week said US discussions with the Europeans about missile sanctions were gaining traction. Those talks center on slapping penalties on companies and people involved in Iran’s program.
Iran insisted last week that its missile program is defensive and not in violation of UN resolutions, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Islamic state of testing a medium-range ballistic missile capable of “carrying multiple warheads,” which he said could strike “anywhere” in the Middle East and even parts of Europe.
“Iran’s missile program is defensive in nature… There is no Security Council resolution prohibiting the missile program and missile tests by Iran,” the official state news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying in response to Pompeo’s statement, the Reuters news agency reported.
Qasemi neither confirmed nor denied that Iran had carried out the alleged test.
Last week, the Security Council met behind closed doors at the request of France and Britain to discuss the missile test. The meeting ended with no joint statement or any plan for followup action, but the council is scheduled to take stock of the implementation of the resolution on December 19.
France and Britain maintain that missile launches are inconsistent with the UN resolution that endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, while the United States has taken a harder stance and views them as an outright violation.
Hajizadeh, the IRGC Aerospace Force commander, said Monday: “Europe and the US are the two blades of the same pair of scissors to pressure the Iranian nation. Their strategy is similar and they have just distributed the tasks.”
In November Hajizadeh said US military personnel and assets in the Middle East were within range of his country’s missiles. The commander said improvements to Iran’s missile arsenal had put US bases in Qatar, the UAE and Afghanistan within reach, as well as US aircraft carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
On Sunday the German Die Welt daily reported that Iran has more than doubled the number of missile tests it has performed in the past year in possible violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.
In 2018, Tehran test-fired at least seven medium-range missiles and at least five short-range missiles and cruise missiles, the report said, citing documents obtained from unspecified Western intelligence services and verified “with various sources.”
By comparison, only four such tests of medium-range missiles and one test launch of a short range missile were said to have been conducted in 2017.
The report said it was possible that the missiles were nuclear-capable ballistic weapons, which the Islamic Republic was banned from testing as part of the 2015 internationally supported agreement.
The UN resolution calls on Iran to refrain from testing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, but does not specifically bar Tehran from missile launches.
The missiles tested this year reportedly include at least three different variants of the Shahab 3 medium-range missile, at least two tests on variants of the Qiam 1 cruise missile, at least one Khorramashahr medium-range missile, a Scud variant, and at least five short-range Zolfaghar missiles.
The report said two of the launches were directed against the Islamic State terror group in Syria, but said that such use could “also serve to test and further develop missiles.”
AFP contributed to this report.