CANBERRA Iran's foreign minister said on Tuesday that its ballistic missiles were for self-defense and that recent tests condemned by the United States did not violate an historic nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.
Speaking in Australia, Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the missiles tested last week would never be used in aggression. The tests drew international concern and prompted a meeting on Monday of the 15-nation United Nations Security Council.
"These missiles do not even fall within the purview of 2231 and they are not illegal," he told reporters, referring to the council resolution, adopted in July, that endorsed the nuclear deal.
"Iran will never use any means to attack any country, including our missiles. These are only for our defense. I challenge those who are complaining about Iran's missile program ... to make the same statement," he added.
The United States on Monday vowed to continue pushing for U.N. Security Council action on the ballistic missile tests and accused Russia of looking for reasons not to respond to what is says are Iranian violations of the resolution.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power was referring to comments from Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who said that in the view of veto-wielding Russia, Iran's ballistic missile tests did not violate resolution 2231.
The resolution "calls upon" Iran to refrain from certain ballistic missile activity. Western nations see that as a clear ban, though council diplomats say China and other council members agree with Russia's and Iran's view that such work is not banned.
Zarif, speaking in Canberra following meetings with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, strongly echoed Churkin's language.
Bishop told reporters that she had raised the issue of the missile tests with Zarif during a private meeting and that Australia refused to rule out an investigation in the Security Council.
"It is Australia's position that should the United Nations Security Council wish to investigate this matter, then that would be the proper legal process for it to do so," she told reporters.
Australia also said on Tuesday that it would re-open a trade office in Iran after a recent lifting in sanctions created commercial opportunities between the two nations.
Mining equipment, technology and services and agricultural commodities were cited as potential areas of trade in a statement released by Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade and Investment.
(Additional reporting by Cecile Lefort in SYDNEY; Editing by Kim Coghill)