Iran’s foreign ministry on Friday dismissed a French call for more negotiations with Tehran over the international nuclear accord and said some of France’s partners are “bullying and excessive,” a seeming reference to the United States.
There was no need for the 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers to be renegotiated, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasimi said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna).
“In the conditions when all of Iran’s efforts with other world powers is nullified through the bullying and excessive demands of some of the partners of the French foreign minister and their own inability ... there is no reason, need, reliability or trust for negotiations on issues that are non-negotiable,” Qasimi said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday that, following the US pullout from the agreement, Tehran should be ready to negotiate on its future nuclear plans, its ballistic missile arsenal and its role in wars in Syria and Yemen.
“French and international officials know well that Iran’s regional policy is in pursuit of peace and regional and international security and combating terrorism and extremism,” Qasimi said.
The agreement, reached after years of painstaking negotiations, limited Iran’s nuclear development programmes in exchange for an easing of sanctions.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Iran has given ballistic missiles to Shiite proxies in Iraq and is developing the capacity to build more there to deter attacks on its interests in the Middle East and to give it the means to hit regional foes, quoting Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources.
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.
“The logic was to have a backup plan if Iran was attacked,” one senior Iranian official said. “The number of missiles is not high, just a couple of dozen, but it can be increased if necessary.” Iran has previously said its ballistic missile activities are purely defensive in nature. Iranian officials declined to comment when asked about the latest moves.
The Iraqi government and military both declined to comment.
The Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar missiles in question have ranges of about 200 km to 700 km,.
The Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has bases in both those areas.
Quds Force commander Qassem Sulaimani is overseeing the programme, three of the sources said.
Western countries have already accused Iran of transferring missiles and technology to Syria and other allies of Tehran, such as Al Houthis in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Gulf neighbours and its arch-enemy Israel have expressed concerns about Tehran’s regional activities, seeing it as a threat to their security.
The Western source said the number of missiles was in the 10s and that the transfers were designed to send a warning to the United States and Israel, especially after air raids on Iranian troops in Syria. The United States has a significant military presence in Iraq.
“It seems Iran has been turning Iraq into its forward missile base,” the Western source said.
The Iranian sources and one Iraqi intelligence source said a decision was made some 18 months ago to use militias to produce missiles in Iraq, but activity had ramped up in the last few months, including with the arrival of missile launchers.
“We have bases like that in many places and Iraq is one of them. If America attacks us, our friends will attack America’s interests and its allies in the region,” said a senior IRGC commander who served during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The Western source and the Iraqi source said the factories being used to develop missiles in Iraq were in Al Zafaraniya, east of Baghdad, and Jurf Al Sakhar, north of Karbala. One Iranian source said there was also a factory in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The areas are controlled by Shiite militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the closest to Iran. Three sources said Iraqis had been trained in Iran as missile operators.
The Iraqi intelligence source said the Al Zafaraniya factory produced warheads and the ceramic of missile moulds under former president Saddam Hussain. It was reactivated by local Shiite groups in 2016 with Iranian assistance, the source said.
A team of Shiite engineers who used to work at the facility under Saddam were brought in, after being screened, to make it operational, the source said. He also said missiles had been tested near Jurf Al Sakhar.
The US Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon declined to comment.
One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Tehran over the last few months has transferred missiles to groups in Iraq but could not confirm that those missiles had any launch capability from their current positions.
Washington has been pushing its allies to adopt a tough anti-Iran policy since it reimposed sanctions this month.
While the European signatories to the nuclear deal have so far baulked at US pressure, they have grown increasingly impatient over Iran’s ballistic missile programme.
France in particular has bemoaned Iranian “frenzy” in developing and propagating missiles and wants Tehran to open negotiations over its ballistic weapons.
Le Drian said on Thursday that Iran was arming regional allies with rockets and allowing ballistic proliferation. “Iran needs to avoid the temptation to be the [regional] hegemon,” he said.
In March, the three nations proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its missile activity, although they failed to push them through after opposition from some member states.
“Such a proliferation of Iranian missile capabilities throughout the region is an additional and serious source of concern,” a document from the three European countries said at the time.
A regional intelligence source also said Iran was storing a number of ballistic missiles in areas of Iraq that were under effective Shiite control and had the capacity to launch them.
The source could not confirm that Iran has a missile production capacity in Iraq.
Western powers had been concerned that Tehran was building towards nuclear weapons. US President Donald Trump backed out of the agreement in May, throwing its survival into doubt.
Paris and Tehran have already locked horns this week. France told its diplomats and foreign ministry officials to postpone indefinitely all non-essential travel to Iran, citing a foiled bomb plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude towards France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.