(CNSNews.com) – Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hit back Sunday at his erstwhile nuclear negotiation partner Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting that Iran may consider negotiating an end to its ballistic missile program.
“Secretary Kerry and the U.S. State Department know well that Iran’s missile and defense capabilities are not open to negotiation,” state media quoted Zarif as saying during a joint press conference with his visiting Estonian counterpart – the latest in a series of European government representatives to visit Tehran after the lifting of sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
“There will be no JCPOA for defense issues,” Zarif declared.
During a visit to Bahrain last week, Kerry said in relation to concerns about Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region and missile launches that the U.S. and its Arab Gulf allies were “prepared to work a new arrangement to find a peaceful solution to these issues.”
His words were interpreted in some media reporting as implying an offer to negotiate with Iran over its missile program, although State Department spokesman Mark Toner disputed Friday that Kerry that making any such suggestion.
Toner said Kerry was simply “emphasizing or underscoring the fact that if Iran chooses to act more constructively in the region, then we can have a different kind of relationship with Iran.”
Pointing to that denial, Zarif said Kerry knew full well the missiles were not up for negotiation, and that even the State Department had called the claims baseless.
At Iran’s insistence, its missile activities were left off the agenda in the talks that produced the JCPOA last summer. A series of provocative launches, last fall and again early last month, has prompted calls in Congress for new sanctions, a move not supported by the administration.
The administration has announced some modest unilateral sanctions designations, but efforts to respond multilaterally to the launches have run into Russian opposition at the U.N. Security Council.
In a number of speeches and statements since the JCPOA was concluded, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has publicly ruled out negotiations with the U.S. on any other issues.
During a meeting between Khamenei and senior Iranian armed forces commanders on Sunday, chief of staff Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi presented a report on the military’s activities, telling the supreme leader the forces were obliged to develop missile capabilities “in a bid to defend the sanctuary of pure Islam and ensure the security of the nation and [its] borders.”
Iran insists its missile program and launches are for purely defensive purposes, but U.S. intelligence officials dispute that.
Delivering the intelligence community’s 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment to Congress last February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described the missile program as “aggressive,” and noted that the missiles “are inherently capable of delivering WMD.”
The launches, he said, were “a deliberate message of defiance.”
In his comments Sunday Zarif – who is often characterized as a moderate by U.S. advocates of engagement with the regime – attacked U.S. policies in the region.
If the U.S. was truly concerned about stability, then it should stop providing weapons that are being used to kill people in Yemen and the Palestinian territories he said, in comments directed at Iran’s foremost regional foes – Saudi Arabia, which is leading an airstrike campaign in support of Yemen’s embattled president, and Israel.
Rather than make “threadbare allegations” about Iran, Zarif said, Kerry should ask America’s allies in the region where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) is getting its weapons from.
Going further back, Zarif said Iran had warned more than a decade ago that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq would have the effect of spreading terrorism and extremism.
“Unfortunately, today the Iraqi people and all those in Syria, the region and the whole world are experiencing the consequences of aggressive and dangerous policies the United States followed during the presidency of George W. Bush,” the Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.
For his part, Khamenei has gone so far as to call ISIS a U.S. “creation.”