Iran denies willingness to negotiate on ballistic missile program

By REUTERS
October 6, 2017 21:30

A Reuters report on Friday said Iran has suggested to six world powers that it may be open to talks about its ballistic missile arsenal.

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Iran denies willingness to negotiate on ballistic missile program

Demonstrators wave Iran's flag and hold up a picture of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran's Azadi square February 11, 2012.. (photo credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI)

Iran said on Friday its ballistic missile program was for defense purposes only and non-negotiable, denying Tehran may be open to discussing the controversial program with major powers.

"Iran has in all bilateral diplomatic meetings... emphasized that its defensive missile program is not negotiable and that it is not inconsistent with UN Security Council resolution 2231," Mehr news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

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A Reuters report on Friday, quoting Iranian and Western officials familiar with the overtures, said Iran has suggested to six world powers that it may be open to talks about its ballistic missile arsenal aimed at reducing tension over the disputed program.

Tehran has repeatedly vowed to continue building up what it calls defensive missile capability in defiance of Western criticism, with Washington saying the Islamic Republic's stance violates its 2015 nuclear deal with the powers.

But the sources said that given Trump's threats to ditch the deal reached under his predecessor, Barack Obama, Tehran had approached the powers recently about possible talks on some "dimensions" of its missile program.

"During their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month, Iran told members of the (world powers) that it could discuss the missile program to remove concerns," an Iranian source with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

US and Western officials did not confirm the matter was discussed at the Zarif-Tillerson meeting. But two US officials said Iran had recently been "keeping it alive" by feeding certain media reports and via third parties such as Oman.

Iran's reported approach came after Trump called the nuclear accord "an embarrassment" and "the worst deal ever negotiated."

He is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the deal, a senior administration official said Thursday.

Such a step could unravel the breakthrough agreement - seen by supporters as crucial to forestalling a Middle East arms race and tamping down regional tensions since it limits Iran's ability to enrich uranium in exchange for sanctions relief.

The other five powers are Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, all of whom have reaffirmed commitment to the deal.

The European Commission said Friday that the international deal to curb Iran's nuclear program struck in 2015 was working and all sides should stick to their commitments.

"We are following very closely all the developments on the deal... reminding that it is a non-proliferation deal, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, that it's working, delivering as it has been verified eight times by the international agency for atomic energy," a Commission spokeswoman told a news conference in Brussels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday he hoped Trump would make a "balanced" decision on whether to remain engaged in the deal.

"It is very important to preserve it in its current form and of course the participation of the United States will be a very significant factor in this regard," Lavrov told reporters on a visit to Kazakhstan.

SIX-POWER MEETING WITH IRAN AT UNITED NATIONS

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met his counterparts from the six powers, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the first time, on the fringes of the UN gathering on Sept. 20.

"The Americans expressed their worries about Iran's missile capability and Zarif said in reply that the program could be discussed," the Iranian source told Reuters.

A US official with first-hand knowledge of dealings with the Islamic Republic said Zarif had been recycling offers that "have been lying dormant on the table for some time.

"Zarif knows that if Trump goes ahead and decertifies Iran, it (Iran) will be on the high ground, and the US will be isolated among the (six powers)," the official said.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the reported overture. The US State Department declined comment on whether possible talks on missiles were addressed at the meeting or whether Iran had recently communicated such interest.

The US mission at the United Nations referred Reuters to the State Department for comment.

The Trump administration has imposed fresh unilateral sanctions on Iran, saying its missile tests violate the UN resolution that formalised the nuclear deal. It calls on Tehran not to undertake activities related to missiles capable of delivering atom bombs. Iran says it has no such plans.

A State Department official said Washington remained committed to "countering the full range of threats the Iranian regime poses to the US, our allies, and regional stability, including its ballistic missile development".

Iran has one of the biggest ballistic missile programs in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential precautionary defense against the United States and other adversaries, primarily Gulf Arab states and Israel.

The United States and its allies worry that such missiles could potentially carry nuclear warheads, should Iran ever develop the means to assemble atomic bombs - a scenario the 2015 nuclear accord was designed to prevent.


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