World News

Iran foreign minister defends missile program, asks European support

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Iran’s foreign minister on Monday defended its ballistic missile program and urged European countries not to be influenced by U.S. President Donald Trump’s confrontational policy towards Tehran.

In an op-ed article in the New York Times, Mohammad Javad Zarif also urged European powers to help preserve the landmark 2015 deal under which Iran curbed its disputed nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of a number of international sanctions.

In October Trump struck a blow against the deal, approved by his predecessor Barack Obama, by refusing to certify that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal despite findings to the contrary by U.N. nuclear inspectors. Trump has also called Iran an “economically depleted rogue state” that exports violence.

“Europe should not pander to Washington’s determination to shift focus to yet another unnecessary crisis - whether it be Iran’s defensive missile program or our influence in the Middle East,” Zarif wrote.

His remarks seemed to be at least partly aimed at France which has been critical of the Islamic Republic’s missile tests and regional policy, including involvement in Syria’s war, in recent weeks.

Last month French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very concerned” by the missile program and called for talks about it, an appeal rejected by Iranian officials.

Iran’s missiles are for defensive purposes only, Zarif wrote in the op-ed.

“We have honed missiles as an effective means of deterrence. And our conscious decision to focus on precision rather than range has afforded us the capability to strike back with pinpoint accuracy,” he wrote. “Nuclear weapons do not need to be precise. Conventional warheads, however, do.”

While criticizing the missile program, European powers that were party to the nuclear deal - France, Britain and Germany - have reaffirmed their commitment to the nuclear deal and voiced concern at Trump calling it into question.

Zarif also criticized rival Saudi Arabia’s regional policy and military campaign in Yemen but also called for dialogue.

“As Iran and its partners labor to put out fires, the arsonists in our region grow more unhinged. They’re oblivious to the necessity of inclusive engagement,” Zarif wrote.

(Refile with full name of minister, para 2, inserts dropped word “labor” in last para)

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Mark Heinrich