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Iran says nuclear program 'forever', dismisses military talk


DUBAI: President Hassan Rouhani dismissed on Tuesday a Western assertion that military force could yet solve a decade-old nuclear dispute if negotiations proved fruitless, pledging that Iran would pursue peaceful atomic research "forever".

In a speech marking the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Rouhani also attacked economic sanctions imposed by the West as "brutal, illegal and wrong" and said countries in the region had nothing to fear from Iran.

Iran's military test-fired two new domestically made missiles on Monday, a gesture of national resolve ahead of talks next week with world powers to try to reach an agreement on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.

Analysts said the missile test, and a reported plan by Iranian warships to cross the Atlantic to approach U.S. shores, were aimed at a placating Iranian hardliners opposed to talks with major powers intended to settle the nuclear dispute.

Rouhani said Western officials continued to argue that if such discussions came to nothing, there was always the option of using military force against its nuclear facilities.

"I say explicitly to those delusional people who say the military option is on the table, that they should change their glasses … Our nation regards the language of threat as rude and offensive," he said.

"I want to expressly announce that the movement of the Iranian nation towards the peaks of scientific and technical progress and advancement, including peaceful nuclear technology, will be forever," he added.

Iran and six world powers struck an interim deal in November under which Tehran agreed to limit parts of its nuclear work in return for the easing of some international sanctions.

Hardliners, unsettled by the foreign policy shift since Rouhani was elected in June, have repeatedly criticized the agreement. Iran's most powerful authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has so far backed the deal.

Farhang Jahanpour of Oxford University's Faculty of Oriental Studies said the missile test was a message of reassurance aimed at Iranian hardliners wary of the deal.

"The message is that 'we are not surrendering, we are still OK, we are still winning points'. The idea is to blunt the criticism of those who don't like the negotiations," he said.

Jahanpour said an announcement that Iran would send warships toward U.S. maritime borders also fell into the category of government "propaganda" aimed at a domestic audience each year on the revolution's anniversary.

Richard Weitz, Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute in the United States said the political message of the test was that "Iran can defend itself even without nuclear weapons".

"It would be helpful, from the proliferation point of view, if Iranian leaders genuinely believed this," he said.

Iran and the six powers will start negotiating a full agreement in Vienna on February 18. Easing of sanctions, imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities, began in late January.

In recent weeks Iranian officials have repeatedly criticized U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for speaking about a potential military option, something his counterparts in several other Western countries have also continued to do.

Kerry told al Arabiya television on January 23 that if Tehran did not abide by the deal "the military option of the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do".

Rouhani said that if major powers approached Iran in the nuclear talks seeking mutual interest, respect and cooperation, they would receive a positive and proper response. If their approach was inappropriate, this would be harmful to the region.

Rouhani said Iran had peaceful intentions.

In an apparent sign of disquiet among hardliners, a written statement by 24 lawmakers read out in parliament last week accused Rouhani of failing to authorize and fund military tests include large annual missile exercises.

"What guarantees our country's sovereignty is demonstrating full authority and defensive capabilities," the letter said. – Reuters 

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