KHAMENEI SAYS WAR UNLIKELY BUT URGES DEFENSE BOOST
WASHINGTON, Sept 2, (Agencies): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced Saturday deep concern over reports of Iran transferring ballistic missiles into Iraq. Pompeo said in a tweet “deeply concerned about reports of Iran transferring ballistic missiles into Iraq.” He added “if true, this would be a gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty and of UNSCR 2231. “Baghdad should determine what happens in Iraq, not Tehran,” he stressed. But Iran denied sending ballistic missiles to Iraq as “fabrication and lies.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted by Fars news agency as saying these reports were “fake and ridiculous,” and aimed at undermining Iran’s relations with neighboring countries. “Such false and ridiculous news have no purpose other than affecting Iran’s foreign relations, especially with its neighbours,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, according to IRNA.
Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources told Reuters that Iran has given ballistic missiles to Shi’ite proxies in Iraq and is developing the capacity to build more there. “This news is solely aimed at creating fears in the countries of the region,” Qassemi added. Pompeo, in his tweet on the reports of the transfer of the missiles, said, “If true, this would be a gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty and of UNSCR 2231.” He was referring to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which underpinned the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iraq and six world powers.
President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal earlier this year and his administration is currently reimposing sanctions against Tehran. Earlier, Pompeo spoke by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “to reaffirm US support for Iraq’s efforts to form a modern, nationalist Iraqi government,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. Pompeo emphasized the importance of safeguarding Iraq’s sovereignty during this critical time, she said. He also spoke to Iraqi Vice-President Ayad Allawi to discuss political developments and relations between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in north Iraq, Nauert added. Any sign that Iran is preparing a more aggressive missile policy in Iraq will exacerbate tensions between Tehran and Washington, already heightened by Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal.
It would also embarrass France, Germany and Britain, the three European signatories to the nuclear deal, as they have been trying to salvage the agreement despite the new US sanctions against Tehran. According to three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources, Iran has transferred short-range ballistic missiles to allies in Iraq over the last few months. Five of the officials said it was helping those groups to start making their own.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it was “astonished” at a Reuters report that Iran had moved missiles to Iraq and that the article was “without evidence”, but stopped short of denying its contents. “Iraq is not obliged to respond to media reports that lack tangible evidence backing up their claims and allegations,” the ministry said in a statement. “All state institutions in Iraq uphold Article 7 of the constitution, which prohibits the use of Iraqi land as a base or passage to be used in operations targeting the security of other states.” Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources told Reuters that Iran had given ballistic missiles to Shi’ite proxies in Iraq and was developing the capacity to build more there. The Iraqi government and military declined to comment at the time. In Sunday’s statement, the Foreign Ministry said it was “astonished at the allegations” contained in the report.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday war was unlikely but called on Iran’s armed forces to boost their defence capacities, according to his official website, as the country faces increased tension with the United States. On Saturday, Iran announced plans to boost its ballistic and cruise missile capacity and acquire modern fighter planes and submarines to boost its defences following the US pullout from Tehran’s nuclear agreement with world powers. “Ayatollah Khamenei emphasised that based on political calculations there is no likelihood of a military war but added that the armed forces must be vigilant … and raise their personnel and equipment capacities,” the website quoted Khamenei as telling commanders of Iran’s air defence forces.
“The Supreme Leader said … the air defence units were a very sensitive part of the armed forces and on the front line of confronting the enemy, and emphasized the need to increase their readiness and capabilities,” the website said in its report on the gathering, which was held to mark Iran’s Air Defence Day. Saturday’s news of the military development plans came a day after Iran dismissed a French call for negotiations on Tehran’s future nuclear plans, its ballistic missile arsenal and its role in wars in Syria and Yemen.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last month the Islamic Republic’s military prowess was what deterred Washington from attacking it. Separately, a senior Iranian diplomat met visiting UK Junior Foreign Minister Alistair Burt and urged swift European action on a planned package of economic measures to offset the US pullout from the accord and the reimpositions of sanctions by Washington, the state news agency IRNA reported.
“The imposition of (US) sanctions and pressures and the lack of rapid action by Europe to fulfill their commitments will have serious consequences,” Kamal Kharrazi, a former foreign minister who heads a top foreign policy council, told Burt, IRNA reported. Iranian officials have said they would decide whether to quit the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after studying the European package of economic measures that could help offset US sanctions.