TEHRAN/WASHINGTON – President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday ordered the accelerated production of missiles in response to possible new U.S. sanctions.
In a letter to the defense minister published on the president’s website, Rouhani said Iran won’t accept any limitations on its missile program.
A senior U.S. official told AP on Wednesday that America is considering designating a number of additional targets for sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Both the U.S. and Iran insist the missile program is not part of a landmark agreement Tehran reached with world powers in July that is to lift international sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.
“Apparently, the U.S. government … is considering adding new individuals and institutions to the list of its previous oppressive sanctions,” Rouhani said in the letter. “It’s necessary to continue with greater speed and seriousness the plan for production of various missiles needed by the armed forces within the approved defense policies,” he wrote.
Rouhani added that the “development and production of Iran’s ballistic missiles, which have not been designed to carry nuclear warheads, are important conventional instruments to defend the country and will continue.”
Iran had earlier denied U.S. accusations that it launched a provocative rocket test last week near Western warships in the Strait of Hormuz, dismissing the claim as “psychological warfare.”
Gen. Ramezan Sharif, a Revolutionary Guard spokesman, said its forces did not carry out any drills in the key Persian Gulf waterway. Sharif said the security of the strategic Persian Gulf remains among Iran’s priorities. His comments were posted on the Guard’s website.
Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said Wednesday that Guard vessels fired several unguided rockets about 1,370 meters (1,500 yards) from the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and other Western warships and commercial traffic last Saturday. Raines said the firing came 23 minutes after Iranians announced a live fire exercise over maritime radio.
While the rockets weren’t fired in the direction of any ships, Raines said Iran’s actions were “highly provocative.”
“Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law,” he said.
Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which has been the scene of past confrontations between America and Iran, including a one-day naval battle in 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war.
The White House has delayed imposing new financial sanctions on Iran over its ballistic-missile program, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the Journal, citing U.S. officials, said the Obama administration was preparing to sanction nearly a dozen companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for their role in developing Iran’s ballistic-missile program.
The U.S. sanctions were expected to be formally announced this week, the newspaper said.
Sources familiar with the situation confirmed to Reuters that the United States was preparing sanctions.
The Obama administration is committed to combating Iran’s missile program and the sanctions being developed by the U.S. Treasury Department remain on the table, the Journal reported on Thursday, citing U.S. officials.
But U.S. officials offered no definitive timeline for when the sanctions would be imposed, the newspaper said. At one point, they were scheduled to be announced on Wednesday morning in Washington, according to a notification the White House sent to Congress, the Journal reported.
Imposing such penalties would be legal under the landmark nuclear agreement forged between global powers and Iran in July, the officials said, according to the Journal.
Iranian officials have said the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would view such penalties as violating the nuclear accord.
U.S. officials have said the Treasury Department retains a right under the nuclear deal to blacklist Iranian entities suspected of involvement in missile development.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered his defense minister on Thursday to expand Iran’s missile program, in defiance of the U.S. threat to impose sanctions over a missile test Iran carried out in October.