Iran’s Assembly of Experts has said that Tehran will not negotiate with Western powers over its defense matters and called on the government to further enhance the country’s ballistic missile program. According to conservative daily Kayhan, the 88-member clerical council which chooses the country’s supreme leader, also accused the United States of violating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and asked the government to take retaliatory measures against Washington. In a statement at the conclusion of its biannual meeting on Wednesday, the high-ranking body further stressed that the government should adopt a policy of “resistance economy” to address the Iranian people’s economic challenges and ensure national unity and stability. Moreover, the statement denounced the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and also attacked Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The assembly reelected hardliner Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as the chairman of the council. 

Comment: In January, President Donald Trump reluctantly waived nuclear-related sanctions, but emphasized that it was “the last chance” for US Congress and European powers to come up with an agreement to crack down on Iran’s ballistic missile program and strengthen other provisions of the deal. While European countries strongly support the Iran deal and want to keep and implement it, they share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s missile activities and destabilizing role in the region. Some European leaders have called for separate agreements with Iran on the missile dispute to supplement the Iran deal. However, Tehran has consistently rejected any talks with Western powers over the missile issue. 

Indeed, since signing the nuclear accord in July 2015, Iran has increased the production of its ballistic missiles and has test-fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles. On March 7, a senior commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said that Iran has increased its missile and defense-related production three-fold despite mounting pressure by the United States and its allies, Tasnim News Agency reported. “The enemy’s actions and confrontation with us as well as their efforts to limit our defense power have backfired. In the past, we needed to convince the parliament and the government in this regard, but now all government officials are actively working on this and our production has increased three-fold compared to the past,” Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the chief commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, told a conference on the significance of fighting for the Islamic revolution.

As Hajizadeh’s statement indicate, there is a general consensus among all Iranian leaders that the Islamic Republic should defy Western pressure and further enhance its missile program. According to Iranian military officials, the country has also increased the range, precision and longevity of its ballistic missiles. In addition to missiles, Iran’s arms production capacity has seen a staggering 100-fold increase in the past five years. 

On May 12, Trump will face another deadline to decide on sanctions waiver for Iran. If he refuses to continue the sanctions waiver, the United States will effectively withdraw from the nuclear deal.