Iran’s defense minister has reiterated that his country should begin using nuclear technology to boost the country’s naval industry, the Iranian media reports. “We should start using nuclear energy in the field of naval propulsion systems,” Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan said at the country’s first exhibition of naval propulsion devices on February 14. He added that manufacturing such systems will enhance the Iranian Navy’s “maneuvering power and capability.”

Dehghan described Iran’s access to the sea “a strategic asset” and called for speeding up the development of Iran’s naval capabilities and maritime industries. He further emphasized that Iran should concentrate on enhancing its domestic manufacturing know-hows of naval and other military assets. “Copying or even reverse-engineering cannot be called domestic manufacturing,” he noted, adding that “it has been 12 years that we have intended to build container ships, but when we cannot make it on time, we seek to purchase it from North Korea. And we repeat this cycle.”

Comment: The plan for the production of nuclear-propulsion system for ships was first announced in December by President Hassan Rouhani, who said the move was a response to the United States’ renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA). In a letter published in the Iranian media outlets, the Iranian president asked Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), to work with Iranian scientists and research organizations to plan “the design and production of nuclear propulsion systems to be used in maritime transport” and production of fuel for such nuclear-powered ships.

The Obama administration said Rouhani’s announcement did not violate the terms of the Iran nuclear agreement; but if Tehran follows through with the plan, it may add another layer of tension between the Islamic Republic and the Trump administration, which has taken a tougher approach toward Iran. Nuclear-powered vessels are fueled with uranium with an enrichment level ranging from less than 10 percent to above 90 percent.

The Iranian leaders’ call for nuclear-powered ships also comes at a time when Washington and its regional allies are already concerned about Iran’s expansionist naval ambitions. In November, the Iranian chief of staff of the armed forces, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, called for setting up naval bases in Yemen and Syria.