TEHERAN • Iran has built a third underground plant to manufacture ballistic missiles, the head of its Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, General Amir-Ali Hadjizadeh, said yesterday.
The announcement, which comes as United States President Donald Trump makes a maiden foreign tour in which Saudi and Israeli concerns about Iran have loomed large, is likely to stoke new tensions with Washington.
"Step by step, we are developing our defensive capability and I announce today that in recent years we have built a third underground factory for the manufacture of missiles," Gen Hadjizadeh was quoted as saying by Iran's Fars news agency.
"We are going to develop our ballistic power. It's normal that our enemies, that is to say the United States and Israel, are angry when we show off our underground missile bases because they want the Iranian people to be in a position of weakness," he added.
In October 2015, state television aired footage for the first time of a base that Gen Hadjizadeh said was 500m underground and stocked with a range of different missiles.
Armed forces spokesman General Masoud Jazayeri said earlier this month that Iran had a number of such underground silos which were an "important deterrent factor against the sworn enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran".
The US says Iran's missile programme is a breach of international law because the missiles could carry nuclear warheads in the future.
Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and says the missiles are designed to carry conventional warheads only and are a legitimate part of its defensive capabilities.
The Trump administration imposed fresh sanctions on Iran following a missile test in late January. It added more last week at the same time as it renewed a waiver of sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme.
In Saudi Arabia last Saturday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to end ballistic missile testing.
On Monday, Mr Rouhani retorted that Iran did not need US permission to conduct missile tests and that they would continue "if technically necessary".
Iran has developed various designs of ballistic missiles, some with a range of 2,000km - sufficient to reach both Israel and US bases in the region.
Most nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted last year after Teheran fulfilled commitments under a 2015 deal with major powers to scale back its nuclear programme - an agreement that Mr Trump has frequently criticised as being too soft on Teheran.
However, Iran remains subject to a United Nations arms embargo and other restrictions.
In retaliation for the new US sanctions over its ballistic missile programme, Iran this month added nine American individuals and companies to its own list of 15 US companies - for alleged human rights violations and cooperation with Israel.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS