News / Middle East

Iran's Ballistic Missiles May Become Hurdle in Nuclear Talks

A photo released March 5, 2014 by the Iranian Defense Ministry purports to show missiles Fateh-110 (top) and Persian Gulf (bottom) in Iran.
A photo released March 5, 2014 by the Iranian Defense Ministry purports to show missiles Fateh-110 (top) and Persian Gulf (bottom) in Iran.
Reuters
Iran's reluctance to discuss limits to its missile program in nuclear negotiations with world powers highlights the weapons' strategic importance for a country facing U.S.-backed regional rivals boasting more modern arsenals.
 
But while it is not at the heart of the talks over Iran's nuclear program, which center on the production of fissile material usable in atomic bombs, Tehran's longer-range missiles could become one of several stumbling blocks ahead.
 
For the United States and its allies, they are a source of concern as they could potentially carry nuclear warheads. Washington wants the issue addressed in the quest for a comprehensive agreement in the decade-old nuclear dispute.
 
The Islamic Republic denies accusations that it is seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons. It insists that the missiles are part of its conventional armed forces and rules out including them on the agenda for the nuclear discussions.
 
Iran has one of the biggest missile programs in the Middle East, regarding such weapons as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against U.S. and other adversaries - primarily Gulf Arabs and Israel - in the region in the event of war.
 
“Iran will likely refuse to negotiate constraints on its missiles,” Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies [IISS] think-tank, said.
 
“They represent one of Iran's few capabilities to deter attack, intimidate regional rivals, and boost military morale and national pride.”
 
It was unclear whether the matter would come up during the latest round of negotiations between Iran and the six big powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia - that got under way in Vienna on Tuesday.
 
Washington and Tehran earlier this year set out contrasting positions on whether missiles should be raised at all during talks on a long-term solution to Iran's nuclear work that began in February and are supposed to yield an agreement by late July.
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a senior member of Tehran's negotiating team, was in February quoted by state media as saying Iran's defense issues were not negotiable and it had  no intention of discussing missile capabilities with the powers.
 
However, a senior U.S. official noted that a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in 2010 banned all activity by Iran related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and that “in some way, this will have to be addressed.”

Gulf military spending rises

Former senior U.S. State Department official Robert Einhorn, now at the Brookings think-tank, said there was “considerable logic” to tackling the ballistic missile issue in the context of what he called the nuclear weapons threat posed by Iran.
 
“Given the inaccuracy of early-generation, long-range ballistic missiles, such missiles only have military utility if they carry munitions with a very wide radius of destruction, mainly nuclear weapons,” Einhorn said in a new report.
 
Iran makes no secret of its missile development program, frequently announcing and televising the testing of new models with the apparent intent to show - for domestic and foreign audiences - its readiness to counter any enemy attacks.
 
Its efforts to develop and field ballistic missiles have helped drive billions of dollars of U.S. missile defense expenditure, and contributed to Israeli threats of possible pre-emptive military action against Iranian nuclear sites.
 
Shortly before the start of the nuclear negotiations in February, Iran's military said it had successfully test-fired two new domestically made missiles, including a longer-range ballistic projectile with radar-evading capabilities.
 
Defense expert Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said it was difficult to assess the missiles' performance due to a lack of reliable information.
 
He cast doubt on whether Iran had managed to make them accurate enough to turn them into useful conventional weapons to attack military targets, but suggested they could still play an important strategic role.
 
Ballistic missiles, Wezeman said, can have “major psychological effects on populations and can compel an opponent to tie substantial military assets to efforts to find and destroy” them.
 
“They are the only long-range weapons [Iran] could deploy against their much better-equipped Arab peninsula neighbors or Israel. The missiles still have a chance to get through, Iran's rather old combat aircraft hardly.”
 
Worried about Iran, Gulf Arab states have increased spending on sophisticated military hardware from the West. In contrast, Iran - although a much bigger country of some 70 million people - is largely shut out from arms markets due to sanctions.

Legitimate defense needs

Elleman said Iran's Shahab-3 missile, or a modified version called Ghadr-1, would be the prime delivery vehicles for a nuclear warhead, while the longer-range Sajjil-2 program appeared frozen, perhaps because of technical problems.
 
Those three missiles are believed to have ranges of up to 1,000 km, 1,600 km and 2,400 km respectively - putting Israel and potentially parts of Europe within reach - although their reach might be less if they were to carry nuclear warheads.
 
Elleman said there were challenges in building a nuclear-armed missile - including making the bomb small and light enough to fit into the cone - “but all of these tasks are likely within Iran's capabilities”.
 
The U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told a Senate briefing earlier this year he believed Iran would choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of dispatching nuclear bombs, if it ever built such weapons.
 
“Iran's ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD [weapons of mass destruction],” he said.
 
Missile expert Markus Schiller said Iran would “definitely” not be able to win a nuclear war against a nuclear-armed state or its allies. But, “assuming they are risk takers, assuming that they have a nuclear device, a functional detonator, and a good idea of thermal protection systems for re-entry, they have everything they need for a primitive nuclear warhead,” he said.
 
Jofi Joseph, a former director for non-proliferation on the White House National Security Council staff, said Iran had legitimate defense needs which ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads could help address.
 
“It is challenging to formulate any restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program that can help prevent its use as a delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons, but preserve its capability to deliver conventional warheads,” he said.
 
Einhorn said one way out of the “potential impasse” may be to exclude the issue from any comprehensive nuclear agreement and work out a separate understanding regarding missiles.
 
“As a confidence-building measure, Iran might indicate that it will refrain from certain missile-related activities for a certain period of time,” he suggested

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
April 30, 2014 4:03 AM
If Iran wants to compared herself with Israel or the US, why she cannot fire a rocket into Israel or the US? Iran has been using this slogan since 2000, Israel should be wipe off the map, It has been fourteen years now. If anyone thinks Iran can defeat Israel, why can't she go ahead and do it. let the world see who will be wipe off the map. As for the US, if Iran just fire a single rocket into the US or any of our facility, so help us all God. If you think the US is something to play with, ask Japan, they will walk you through history. Iran is just bluffing, She just talking because she wants to be heard. Iran try any nonsense, Iran will be turn into a memorial ground. i can assured you. There is no military on this earth that can withstand the US firepower. Iran is just coming into technology, Israel is an advance country in technology. or do you think all those weapon that Israel has they will just sit there and do nothing? Let them ask Hizbollah what happened to Lebanon in 2006, If anyone doubt the US or Israel, keep listening to the new. God Bless America

by: Anonymous
April 08, 2014 6:24 PM
I believe iran is one of the most sensable islamic state in the ME backed with colony of experts of every field of human achievment .Iran sprang up three decade ago if not two.Minus the us Israel has no millitary advantage over iran regardless of its hundreds of nuclear warhead iran can deside to render israel to debris unilateraly without the derailment of its economy but israel can't boste of that. israel is gradually loosing its reputation as the so call super power fade away iran should consider jerusalem just in case.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs