Iran Advances Missile Research in Defiance of U.S. Concerns

Iran's defense minister has vowed to continue his country's ballistic missile program; a key grievance of the U.S. and its allies that President Joe Biden has said will be in his sights during future negotiations with Tehran.

Brigadier General Amir Hatami said Thursday that Iran will continue striving for "high goals" in missile development and other defensive weapons research, according to the state-run Press TV.

Also this week, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps broadcast footage of what it called a "missile city," displaying a range of cruise and ballistic missiles that commander Hossein Salami said was evidence of the IRGC's "great and expansive missile capability."

Addressing a virtual meeting of senior defense officials, Hatami said Iranian forces would expand their missile work over the coming year.

"We will remain involved in the regional field as well as in the area of defensive and missile power, and will continue to achieve high goals in these areas with our full strength," Hatami said.

Iran's current longest-range ballistic missile—the North Korean-designed Shabab-3—has a maximum range of around 560 miles, putting all of the Middle East and portions of south eastern Europe in striking distance. Iran is working to extend the range of its missiles and to upgrade them with more advanced warheads.

Critics of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal say its failure to address Iran's ballistic missile program is one of the accord's biggest flaws. Even without a nuclear weapon, they say, Iran's ballistic missile program poses a threat to American interests and allies across the Middle East, particularly arch-rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia.

But the Biden administration has said it will not include restrictions on ballistic missiles and Iran's regional proxy forces in its push to first revive the JCPOA. The administration's focus is on the original agreement, though Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said a longer and stronger agreement covering missiles and other issues could come later.

Earlier this month, Blinken told Congress that the administration focus is "getting Iran back into that nuclear box....We have fundamental problems with Iran's actions across a whole series of things whether it is support for terrorism, whether it's a ballistic missile program that's increasingly dangerous, whether it's destabilizing actions throughout the region."

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS News in February that Iran's missile capability "has also advanced dramatically," both during President Barack Obama's final term and under President Donald Trump.

"Our view is that if we can get back to diplomacy and put Iran's nuclear program in a box, that will create a platform upon which to build a global effort, including partners and allies in the region and in Europe and elsewhere, to take on the other significant threats Iran poses, including on the ballistic missile issue," Sullivan said.

In January, Sullivan told CNN that "ballistic missiles and Iran's ballistic missile program has to be on the table as part of that follow-on negotiation," assuming successful reviving of the JCPOA.

But Tehran has long refused any hint of negotiations involving its missiles. Through his "maximum pressure" campaign, Trump and his top officials stressed it was unacceptable for Iran to continue work on its ballistic missiles. Hatami said Thursday that Iran's armed forces had outlasted the former president.

"Many of these measures have been and are being taken with the aim of overcoming the Islamic Republic of Iran," Hatami said, referring to sanctions; military pressure across the region; and the assassinations of IRGC commander Major General Qassem Soleimani and nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

"In the end, however, we saw that the sinister conspiracy of the enemies failed and the regional dynamics turned unfavorable to the United States and its allies," Hatami said.

Iran missile at exhibit in Tehran museum
Visitors gather around a missile at a museum in Tehran, Iran, on September 21, 2019. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images