Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that his country needs its controversial missile program in order to negotiate from a position of strength and that those who oppose rocket development are treasonous.
The comments came as Western powers called on the UN to take action against Iran over recent tests of ballistic missiles, noting they threatened Israel.
Khamenei, who supported talks with the West over its nuclear program, said negotiations could not replace military might in Tehran’s international relations.
“That they say the future of the world is one of negotiation and not one of missiles, if that is said out of ignorance, well it is ignorance, but if it’s said knowingly, it is treason,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
The comments were seen as pushback against Iranian reformers who support negotiations as key to improving Tehran’s standing in the world.
“If the Islamic establishment seeks technology and negotiations but lacks defensive power, it will have to back down in the face of any petty country that threatens [Iran],” the Khamenei said.
Khamenei made the comments during an event to mark the birthday anniversary of Prophet Mohammed’s daughter, Fatimah, the semi-official Iranian Press-TV reported.
The nuclear deal, passed in July and implemented in January, lifted punishing economic sanctions and has allowed Iran to forge fresh economic and diplomatic ties with the West.
Under a UN Security Council resolution passed alongside the nuclear deal, the country is forbidden from developing weapons that can carry nuclear weapons.
That would seem to include ballistic missiles, including two which were tested earlier this month with the words “Israel must be wiped off the earth” emblazoned on one, according to the US and other Western powers.
On Tuesday, the US, France, Britain and Germany and three allies called for a United Nations Security Council meeting to formulate an “appropriate response” to Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests, which they say were carried out in defiance of a UN resolution and to threaten Israel.
The letter called the launches “destabilizing and provocative” and says the Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile and Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile that were fired are “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
Israel called for punitive action against Iran following the March 9 tests of the two ballistic missiles.
Iran maintains that because it cannot develop nuclear weapons under the deal, no missile is capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.
Russia backs Iran’s stance and is likely to veto any action against Iran in the Security Council.