TEHRAN, Iran – Iran on Tuesday criticized the U.S. move to boost the defensive missiles system in Gulf Arab countries against potential strikes by Tehran, calling it a political ploy to increase American military presence in the region.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said upgrading the missile defense systems in the Persian Gulf would only bring more trouble for U.S. forces.
"Regional countries should know that this puppet show by the U.S., while claiming to create security in the region is nothing except a new political ploy to increase the (American) military presence at the expense of others," Larijani said during a parliament session.
The remarks follow reports that the Obama administration has quietly increased the capability of land-based Patriot defensive missiles in several Gulf Arab nations. One U.S. military official said last week the Navy is stepping up the presence of ships capable of knocking out hostile missiles in flight.
The defenses are being beefed up ahead of possible new sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which the West fears masks Iranian ambitions to produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran has missiles ranging up to 1250 miles that could hit Israel and the U.S bases in the region. Tehran denies its nuclear program is meant for any other purpose except electricity production.
Four Mideast countries to have the U.S system are Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain — which also hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters — and Qatar, which has a modernized U.S. air operations center that played a key role in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. Central Command chief responsible for U.S. military operations across the Middle East, mentioned in recent public speeches one element of the defensive strategy in the Gulf: upgrading Patriot missile systems, which originally were deployed in the region to shoot down aircraft but now can hit missiles in flight.
In remarks at Georgetown Law School on Jan. 21, Petraeus said the U.S. now has eight Patriot missile batteries stationed in the Gulf region — two each in four countries.
Larijani warned Mideast nations not to be "deceived by U.S. anti-Iran policies" and talk of a growing Iranian threat.
"When, in the past 31 years, has Iran attacked any of its neighboring states or any other countries in the region," Larijani asked, adding the 1980-88 war with Iraq was in defense against the attack launched by Saddam Hussein.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also addressed the Gulf defensive missiles plan, telling reporters Iran considers it to be "ineffective." He said it would not affect what he described as Iran's close ties with regional countries.
The American move in the Persian Gulf is part of a broader adjustment in the U.S. approach to missile defense, including in Europe and Asia, and has been in the works for months. Details have not been publicly announced, in part because of diplomatic sensitivities in Gulf countries which worry about Iranian military capabilities but are cautious about acknowledging U.S. protection.
Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, also denied this week's claims by Thailand that a planeload of North Korean weapons seized there in December was headed to Iran.
"There is no link between the aircraft and our country," Mehmanparast said.
He said Iran had no need to import such arms due to its own weapons production, which includes rockets, tanks, jet fighters, light submarines and missiles.
Thailand said Monday that the aircraft, which was seized on a refueling stop, was heading to Iran, though it did not know the ultimate destination of the 35 tons of weaponry.
The shipment, which violated U.N. sanctions against North Korea, reportedly included light battlefield arms such as grenades — hardly the ones Iran's sophisticated military would need.
From the start there has been speculation that the weapons were to be shipped on to some of the radical Middle Eastern groups supported by Tehran.
The plane's chief pilot, among five crewmen detained in Thailand, maintains that the aircraft was headed for Kiev, Ukraine.