REUTERS - Iran's top leader on Wednesday said missiles were key to the Islamic Republic's future, offering support to the hard-line Revolutionary Guards that have drawn criticism from the West for testing ballistic missiles.
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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported last year's nuclear deal with world powers but has since called for Iran to avoid further rapprochement with the United States and its allies, and maintain its economic and military strength.
"Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors," Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, was quoted as saying by his website.
"If the Islamic Republic seeks negotiations but has no defensive power, it would have to back down against threats from any weak country."
His comments may have been directed at former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the de facto leader of a more moderate political alliance, who last week tweeted "the future is in dialogue, not missiles".
Iran's Revolutionary Guards conducted ballistic missile tests earlier this month, in what they said was a demonstration of Iran's non-nuclear deterrent power.
The United States and several European powers said the tests defied a UN Security Council Resolution that calls on Iran not to test nuclear-capable missiles, in a joint letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
However, Washington has said that a fresh missile test would not violate a July 2015 accord under which Iran has restricted its disputed nuclear program and won relief from UN and Western financial sanctions in return. That agreement between Iran and six world powers was endorsed in Resolution 2231.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that Iran's ballistic missile had caused "alarm" and it would be up to the major powers in Security Council to decide whether fresh sanctions should be applied.
But Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, said the tests did not violate Resolution 2231.
"You may like it or not that Iran launches ballistic missiles - but that is a different story. The truth is that in the 2231 resolution there are no such bans," Interfax cited Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the ministry's department for non-proliferation and arms control, as saying.
Iran has consistently denied its missiles are designed to carry nuclear weapons.