DUBAI (REUTERS, AFP) - Iran test-fired several ballistic missiles from silos across the country on Tuesday, the official website of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said, defying recent US sanctions on its missile programme.
The test was intended "to show Iran's deterrent power and also the Islamic Republic's ability to confront any threat against the (Islamic) Revolution, the state and the sovereignty of the country", the website said.
The test came two months after the United States sanctioned businesses and individuals linked to Iran's missile programme over a test of the medium-range Emad missile carried out in October 2015.
The United Nations said that test, which took place after Iran reached a nuclear deal with world powers in July, violated Security Council Resolution 1929 which barred Iran from undertaking any work on nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
That resolution expired when the nuclear deal was implemented in January, but a new resolution then came into force under which Iran is "called upon" not to undertake any work on missiles "designed to" deliver nuclear weapons.
Iran always denied any link between its ballistic missiles and its disputed nuclear programme, which is now subject to strict limitations and checks under the nuclear deal that came into force in January.
While any missile of a certain size could in theory be used to carry a nuclear warhead, Iran says the Emad and other missiles are for use as a conventional deterrent. Recent work has focused on improving the missiles' accuracy, which experts say will make them more effective with conventional warheads.
The latest tests, during an exercise named “The Power of Velayat”, a reference to the religious doctrine of the Islamic republic’s leadership, were undertaken by the Revolutionary Guards and its Aerospace wing.
Sepah News, the Guards’ official media service, carried a statement confirming the tests, which come less than two weeks after elections in Iran delivered gains to politicians aligned with Hassan Rouhani, the country’s moderate president.
The Revolutionary Guards report to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not Rouhani, and their influence dwarfs that of the army and other armed forces.
Ballistic missile tests have been seen as a means for Iran’s military to demonstrate that the nuclear deal will have no impact on its plans, which is says are for domestic defence only.
Major General Ali Jafari, the Guards’ top commander, and Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, spoke about the tests on television, with the latter downplaying the effect of US efforts to disrupt its activities.
“Our main enemies, the Americans, who mutter about plans, have activated new missile sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and are seeking to weaken the country’s missile capability,” Hajizadeh said.
“The Guards and other armed forces are defenders of the revolution and the country will not pay a toll to anyone... and will stand against their excessive demands.”
Iran’s ballistic missile programme has been contentious since the nuclear deal with the United States and five other powers was struck in Vienna on July 14 last year.
On October 11, Tehran conducted the first of two ballistic missile tests which angered Washington. State television weeks later aired unprecedented footage of underground missile storage bunkers.
A UN panel said in December that the tests breached previous resolutions aimed at stopping Tehran from developing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Iran has always denied seeking an atomic weapon and argues that its missiles would never be designed to, nor ever carry, the bomb.
The nuclear deal was heralded by moderates such as Rouhani, who staked his reputation on the negotiations, but hardliners in Tehran said it damaged national interests.
Announcing the new missile sanctions on January 17, one day after the nuclear deal was implemented, US President Barack Obama said “profound differences” with Tehran remained over its “destabilising activities”.
Five Iranians and a network of companies based in the United Arab Emirates and China were added to an American blacklist.
The White House had first threatened to impose the measures in December but withdrew them after Rouhani hit out at both their timing and intent. Missiles were not part of the nuclear agreement.
Asked before the missile sanctions were announced how Iran would react to fresh measures against it, Rouhani said: “Any action will be met by a reaction.”
Those measures came after four Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, left Tehran following their release in a prisoner swap with the United States. The exchange took place on the same day the nuclear deal came into force.