Tehran wants to expand missile range despite US ire

SHAHRUD, Iran: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a rally yesterday. – AFP

TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani struck a defiant stance against US sanctions yesterday, renewing his threat to cut off international oil sales from the Gulf. “America should know… it is not capable of preventing the export of Iran’s oil,” Rouhani said at a televised rally in Semnan province. “If it ever tries to do so… no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf,” he added. Since the 1980s, Iran has said repeatedly it would blockade the Gulf in response to international pressure but has never carried out the threat.

Washington has reimposed sanctions, including an oil embargo, since withdrawing from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers in May. It has vowed to reduce Iran’s oil sales to zero, but has granted temporary waivers to eight countries. Rouhani last threatened to close the Gulf in July when he warned the US “should not play with the lion’s tail”. The president downplayed the economic impact of sanctions, accusing the media of exaggerating the country’s problems. “No hyperinflation, no massive unemployment will threaten us. People should stop saying such things in the papers,” he told the crowd.

The latest inflation report from Iran’s central bank says food prices rose 56 percent year-on-year in October. Rouhani acknowledged there were “some problems”, but said these would be addressed in the new budget plan to be presented on Dec 16. He said the government would maintain subsidies on essential goods and increase public sector wages and pensions by 20 percent.

Rouhani said the United States would not succeed in cutting Iran’s economic ties with the region and the world. Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri also said yesterday that US sanctions were hitting vulnerable people in Iran. “When (Americans) say their target is the Iranian government and there won’t be pressure on the sick, the elderly and the weak in society, it’s a lie,” Jahangiri said, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Meanwhile, Iran wants to increase its missiles’ range, a senior military official was quoted as saying yesterday, a move that would irk the United States which views Tehran’s weapons program as a regional security threat. “One of our most important programs is increasing the range of missiles and ammunition,” Iranian air force head, Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh, said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. “We don’t see any limitations for ourselves in this field.”

Iran’s military has cited 2,000 km as the current missile range, and said US bases in Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, plus US aircraft carriers in the Gulf, were within range. Nasirzadeh did not give details on how far Iran would like to increase that range, according to the Fars report. Tehran insists its missile program is purely defensive but has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, if Washington tries to strangle its exports.

At the weekend, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned what he described as Iran’s testing of a medium-range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads as a violation of the agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran has repeatedly said its missile program is not up for negotiation. – Agencies