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Iran: Missile Tests Not Violation of Nuclear Deal

FILE - In this photo obtained from the Iranian Fars News Agency, a Qadr H long-range ballistic surface-to-surface missile is fired by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, during a maneuver, in an undisclosed location in Iran, Wednesday, March 9, 2016.

Iran said Thursday its ballistic missile program and the tests it conducted this week do not violate its commitments under a nuclear agreement reached last year with a group of six world powers.

State media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi-Ansari saying Iran will continue the program and that it is legitimate and defensive in nature.

The U.S. State Department raised concerns about the test launches that Iran said it conducted Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We're going to take a look at it and we'll take whatever appropriate response is necessary, either at the U.N. or unilaterally," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby said that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue later Wednesday with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.

But Iran's Student News Agency said Thursday that Kerry had sent emails to Zarif asking for a telephone consultation, but it did not happen because Zarif is on an official visit.

The nuclear pact, negotiated by the United States and five other world powers, does not prohibit the missile tests. It brought a new U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to not "undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology."

Iran said two missiles launched Wednesday were inscribed with a message in Hebrew that "Israel should be wiped from the pages of history."

The semi-official Fars news agency showed pictures it said were of Qadr H missiles being fired from Iran's eastern Alborz mountain range, their target 1,400 kilometers away off the country's coast into the Sea of Oman.

"The reason we designed our missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers is to be able to hit our enemy, the Zionist regime, from a safe distance," said Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Hajizadeh stressed Iran would not start a war with Israel, with Tehran describing the tests as a show of its "deterrent power."

"We condemn all threats to Israel and we'll stand with Israel to help it to defend itself against all kinds of threats," Kirby said.

The tests came as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Jerusalem for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, March 8, 2016.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, March 8, 2016.

Biden did not acknowledge the missile tests, but he warned Iran against any violations of the internationally negotiated nuclear deal that curbed Iran's nuclear activity in exchange for lifting sanctions that had hobbled its economy.

"A nuclear-armed Iran is an absolutely unacceptable threat to Israel, to the region and the United States," Biden said as he stood next to Netanyahu, who had unsuccessfully opposed the nuclear pact. "And I want to reiterate which I know people still doubt here. If in fact they break the deal, we will act."

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel Radio the tests showed Iran's hostility toward the Jewish state had not changed since the January implementation of the nuclear pact, even with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's overtures to the West.

Yaalon said, "To my regret there are some in the West who are misled by the honeyed words from part of the Iranian leadership while the other part continues to procure equipment and weaponry, to arm terrorist groups."

The nearest point in Iran is about 1,000 kilometers from the key Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.