Iran vows no halt to mis­sile tests as West hard­ens tone

Tehran, US trade blame over new naval in­ci­dent in Gulf

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

TEHRAN: A de­fi­ant Iran vowed yes­ter­day to press ahead with its mis­sile pro­gram and con­demned new US sanc­tions, as ten­sions rise af­ter the West hard­ened its tone against the Is­lamic re­pub­lic. Mean­while, Tehran and Wash­ing­ton ac­cused each other’s naval forces of provoca­tive ma­neu­vers in the Gulf that cul­mi­nated in a US he­li­copter fir­ing warn­ing flares at Ira­nian ves­sels, the lat­est close en­counter be­tween the coun­tries in re­cent months. The US Navy said it had re­acted to un­re­spon­sive ves­sels be­long­ing to the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards clos­ing in on Amer­i­can ships at high speed, a charge de­nied by Iran, which de­scribed the Amer­i­can move as un­pro­voked.

“At 4 pm (1130 GMT) on Fri­day, the su­per­car­rier USS Nimitz and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing war­ship, while be­ing mon­i­tored by the Guards’ frigates, flew a he­li­copter near the Re­salat oil and gas plat­form and ap­proached the force’s ships,” the Guards said. “The Amer­i­cans in a provoca­tive and un­pro­fes­sional move, sent a warn­ing mes­sage to the frigates and fired flares.” The Guards “ig­nored the un­con­ven­tional move by the US ships and con­tin­ued their mis­sion, af­ter which the su­per­car­rier and its war­ship left the area,” the state­ment added.

The US Navy said in a state­ment its ships were on a rou­tine pa­trol when an Amer­i­can he­li­copter “ob­served sev­eral Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps naval ves­sels ap­proach­ing US naval forces at a high rate of speed”. It added: “US naval forces at­tempted to es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tions, with no re­sponse from the Ira­nian ves­sels. Shortly there­after, at a safe dis­tance, the US he­li­copter de­ployed flares, af­ter which the Ira­nian ves­sels halted their ap­proach.”

Three days ear­lier, a US Navy pa­trol ship fired warn­ing shots at a Guards boat in the Gulf as it closed in on the Amer­i­can ves­sel, ac­cord­ing to US of­fi­cials. The Guards de­nied ap­proach­ing the US ship in Tues­day’s in­ci­dent and said it was the Amer­i­can ves­sel that had been at fault. There have been a string of close en­coun­ters be­tween US ships and Ira­nian ves­sels in the Gulf in re­cent months.

On the po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­field, Ira­nian for­eign min­istry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told state broad­caster IRIB that Tehran con­demned new US sanc­tions against its mis­sile pro­gram, which Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is set to sign into law, and vowed to press on. “We will con­tinue with full power our mis­sile pro­gram,” he said. “We con­sider the ac­tion by the US as hos­tile, rep­re­hen­si­ble and un­ac­cept­able, and it’s ul­ti­mately an ef­fort to weaken the nu­clear deal.”

Ghasemi was re­fer­ring to a 2015 agree­ment be­tween Iran and US-led world pow­ers that lifted some sanc­tions on Tehran in re­turn for curbs on the coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram. “The mil­i­tary and mis­sile fields... are our do­mes­tic poli­cies and oth­ers have no right to in­ter­vene or com­ment on them,” the spokesman said. The sanc­tions bill, which also tar­gets Rus­sia and North Korea, was passed by the US Se­nate on Thurs­day, two days af­ter be­ing ap­proved by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Separately on Fri­day, Wash­ing­ton im­posed new sanc­tions tar­get­ing Iran’s mis­sile pro­gram, one day af­ter Tehran tested a satel­lite-launch rocket. Ira­nian state tele­vi­sion broad­cast footage of the take­off from the Imam Khome­ini space cen­ter in Sem­nan prov­ince in the east of the coun­try. The launch ve­hi­cle was ca­pa­ble of pro­pel­ling a satel­lite weigh­ing 250 kg into or­bit at an al­ti­tude of 500 km, it said.

Western gov­ern­ments sus­pect Iran of try­ing to de­velop the tech­nol­ogy for longer-range mis­siles with con­ven­tional or nu­clear pay­loads, a charge de­nied by Tehran, which in­sists its space pro­gram has purely peace­ful aims. In a joint state­ment, Bri­tain, France, Ger­many and the US con­demned Tehran’s “desta­bi­liz­ing” ac­tion, say­ing the test was in vi­o­la­tion of UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 2231 that en­dorsed the nu­clear deal. “We call on Iran not to con­duct any fur­ther bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties,” they said.

Res­o­lu­tion 2231 called on Iran not to test bal­lis­tic mis­siles ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a nu­clear war­head and an arms em­bargo has re­mained in place. The United States has had no diplo­matic ties with the Iran since 1980, and Trump has halted the di­rect con­tacts ini­ti­ated by his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama. Ten­sions have mounted be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tehran since Trump took of­fice six months ago vow­ing to be the best friend of Is­rael.

At UN head­quar­ters in New York on Fri­day, US en­voy Nikki Ha­ley ex­pressed mis­trust of Iran. “Iran’s wide­spread sup­port for ter­ror­ists tells us we can’t trust them. Iran’s break­ing its obli­ga­tion on mis­sile test­ing tells us we can’t trust them. Yes­ter­day’s launch proves that yet again,” she said. De­spite his elec­toral prom­ise to tear apart what he once called “the worst deal ever”, Trump has so far re­spected the nu­clear agree­ment.

The joint US-Euro­pean state­ment said that Iran’s lat­est test fea­tures tech­nol­ogy re­lated to “bal­lis­tic mis­siles de­signed to be ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing nu­clear weapons”. Iran in­sists it has “proven its com­pli­ance with the nu­clear deal” as re­peat­edly con­firmed by the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency. “Iran does not rec­og­nize any lim­its to its sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal progress and will not wait for the ap­proval or per­mis­sion of any coun­try re­gard­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of its sci­en­tists and ex­perts,” the for­eign min­istry spokesman said. — Agen­cies

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