Iran Slams Western Missile Stance

(Reuters) -

Iran’s Supreme Leader described as “stupid and idiotic” Western expectations for his country to curb its missile development, striking a defiant tone ahead of a fresh round of nuclear talks.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to mass produce missiles and said the nuclear negotiations were not the place to discuss Tehran’s defense program or to solve the problem of sanctions damaging the Iranian economy.

“They expect us to limit our missile program while they constantly threaten Iran with military action,” Khamenei was quoted as telling the IRNA news agency while on a visit to an aeronautics fair held by the Revolutionary Guards.

“So this is a stupid, idiotic expectation … The revolutionary guards should definitely carry out their program and not be satisfied with the present level. They should mass produce. This is a main duty of all military officials.”

Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia will reconvene in Vienna on Tuesday to try to iron out differences over how to end a long standoff over suspicions that Tehran has sought the means to develop nuclear weapons.

While missiles are not at the heart of the talks over Iran’s nuclear work, which center on the production of fissile material usable in atomic bombs, Western countries would like them discussed at the nuclear discussions.

Iran has one of the biggest missile programs in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential precautionary defense against the United States and Israel.

The United States and its allies fret that such missiles could potentially carry nuclear warheads.

Khamenei’s comments appeared at odds with more conciliatory remarks earlier by President Hassan Rouhani, who said he wanted Iran to do a better job of explaining its nuclear program to prevent “evil-minded” people misleading world opinion.

“What we can offer the world is greater transparency,” Rouhani said in a speech at a ceremony celebrating Iran’s scientific achievements.

Western powers have long demanded greater openness from Iran to address their concerns and head off a downward spiral towards a new Middle East war.