(CNSNews.com) – Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared Wednesday that Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities are crucial for the country’s defense, and – in an apparent swipe at an influential former president – added that those who argue that this is a time for talks rather than for missiles are either ignorant or traitors.
At a time when some U.N. Security Council members are mulling a response to Iran’s recent missile launches, Khamenei used an address to Iranians marking the birthday of Mohammed’s youngest daughter to laud the program.
He praised the recent demonstrations of missile prowess by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), saying – according to a statement on his website – they were “a source of happiness for those nations that have been wronged by the United States and the Zionist regime of Israel, and are at the same time unable to do anything about it.”
In the “jungle-like circumstances” of today’s world, Khamenei argued, if Iran focuses on negotiations and economic and technological exchanges but neglects its defensive capacity, then it will find itself backing down in the face of threats by even “petty countries.”
Disputing those who say the times call for talks, not missiles, he said “[our] times are times for everything. Otherwise, the nation will see its rights trampled on, easily and overtly.”
“If this claim has been made due to lack of knowledge it is one thing,” he said. “But if it is said knowingly, it would amount to treason.”
Khamenei did not elaborate, but on March 24 former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a Twitter message illustrated with a photo of a magnolia blooming in spring, wrote that “the world of tomorrow is one of discourse, not missiles.”
“The enemies are constantly upgrading their military and missile capacity,” Khamenei said. “Under such circumstances, how can we say that the time is gone for missiles?”
He accused Iran’s foes – “the global arrogance” – of using all means at their disposal to undermine Iran – political, economic, cultural and military.
“They use dialog, economic relations, sanctions, military threat, and other means to realize their objectives,” he said. “Likewise, we should make optimum use of all these tools to fight back and defend.”
Khamenei said Iran’s foes should not claim that Iran is against dialogue.
However, “we say that we should negotiate in a powerful and vigilant manner in a bid to avoid being deceived.”
‘In letter and spirit’
Khamenei last fall gave his cautious approval to the nuclear agreement negotiated with the U.S. and five other nations, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but he has ruled out negotiations with the U.S. on other issues.
Iran carried out ballistic missile launches on Oct. 10, Nov. 21, and again early this month. In the most recent round, photos of missiles disseminated in Iranian media showed Hebrew inscriptions on the casing stating that “Israel must be wipe off the earth.”
At Iran’s insistence, and with Russia’s support, missiles were not on the table in the nuclear talks. As such, Iran denies that the launches violate the JCPOA.
The U.S. State Department concedes that is the case, but it says the launches are “in defiance of” U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA.
That resolution, which passed unanimously last July, states that Iran is “called upon” not to carry out specified missile activity, including launches of missiles “designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.”
Critics have rapped the administration for permitting weaker language in resolution 2231 than more forceful terms used in earlier resolutions which 2231 replaced. Those earlier measures said that Iran “shall not” undertake such activity.
Arguing that the “called upon” language is not a legal prohibition, veto-wielding permanent Security Council member Russia has so far resisted efforts led by the U.S. to have the body respond to the launches.
State Department spokesman John Kirby reiterated Wednesday the Iranians “are in compliance of their commitments under the JCPOA” – despite the fact the missile launches are “in defiance of” resolution 2231.
“We would certainly be much more comfortable and happy to see Iran cease the other destabilizing activities which it continues to support – support for terrorists and terrorist networks and, of course, the pursuit of ballistic missile technologies and the testing of those technologies,” he told a briefing.
“We absolutely would like to see that stop. But we continue to believe that they are meeting their obligations under the JCPOA, and we would agree with Secretary Lew that that includes in letter and spirit.”
Earlier Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment that “since Iran has kept its end of the deal, it is our responsibility to uphold ours, in both letter and spirit.”