Iran Warns Europe against Siding with U.S. in Missile Dispute

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Oct 23, 2017
Iran Warns Europe against Siding with U.S. in Missile Dispute

The head of Iran’s powerful Judiciary ruled out any negotiations with the United States and other world powers over the country’s controversial missile program, and warned European countries not to side with Washington in the latest U.S.-Tehran standoff. “The Europeans should understand that if they cooperate with America, we will stand up against them the same way we have confronted the United States,” Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani said at a gathering of senior Iranian Judiciary officials. He particularly cautioned that Iran will not accept any demand to negotiate and relate the country’s missile program to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the nuclear deal Tehran signed with the United States, China, Russia, Germany, Britain, and France in July 2015.

“In addition to the nuclear issue and JCPOA, American officials’ statements predominantly focus on two issues: Iran’s missile power and the Islamic Republic’s presence in the region. The answer to both issues is clear and the U.S. officials need to pay attention to it,” Larijani added. “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s missile power is for defense and we will definitely not have any JCPOA-2 or JCPOA-3 and any negotiations about it.” He emphasized that Tehran will continue to further enhance its missile power and deterrence capabilities.

Larijani also defended Iran’s military involvement in regional conflicts, stressing that Tehran has deployed its forces to Syria and Iraq upon requests from the two countries’ governments. He further stressed that Iran “is present in its own geographical region” and questioned the U.S. intent on establishing military bases in faraway Middle East. Larijani also accused the United States of aiding the Islamic State and claimed that Iran’s “advisory role” to the “resistance front” defeated the Islamic State in the Middle East. The Iranian Judiciary chief also criticized U.S. presence in Afghanistan. “Is Afghanistan more secure after your presence? Now that Daesh [Islamic State] is on the verge of collapse in Syria and Iraq, you intend to strengthen this terrorist group in Afghanistan,” he alleged.

Comment: Ayatollah Larijani’s words carry a lot of weight as he is one of Iran’s most influential leaders and has a very close relationship with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He is directly appointed as the Judiciary chief by Khamenei and is also touted as the Supreme Leader’s potential successor. Moreover, Larijani’s brothers also wield significant influence in Iranian politics: Ali Larijani is currently the Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, and Javad Larijani is an aide to Khamenei and heads the country’s High Council for Human Rights.

There appears to be a consensus among political and military leaders in Tehran to continue and further advance Iran’s missile technology at any cost. At the first press conference since winning reelection, President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic would continue its ballistic missile program despite Washington’s concerns. “American authorities should know that whenever we need to test a missile for technical reasons, we will carry it out. And we will not wait for them or their permission,” he said defiantly after U.S. and Saudi leaders criticized Tehran’s regional policies at the Riyadh summit. Khamenei has also stressed that his country would further enhance its missile power  “We have missiles and they are very precise. They can hit targets with precision from thousands of kilometers away. We will forcefully preserve and enhance this capability.”

Last week, the I.R.G.C. also announced today that Iran will defy U.S. pressure and further bolster the country’s missile program. “The Islamic Republic’s missile power expanded during absolute sanctions regime and will continue and accelerate without a pause,” it said in a statement. The statement stressed that it is the “revolutionary duty” of the I.R.G.C. to confront the United States and Israel with more determination and not spare any effort to defend the Islamic Revolution. It concluded by saying that the Islamic Republic will step up its efforts to expand its influence in the region and enhance the country’s missile power.

As Larijani’s remarks indicate, Iranian leaders are concerned that European powers may side with Washington to pressure Iran on the missile issue. While the nuclear agreement does not address Iran’s missile program, the subsequent U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Iranian leaders argue that the country’s missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads, but U.S. officials say some of the missiles Iran has tested after the 2015 nuclear deal have been "inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons" and are "in defiance of" the U.N. resolution.