The real meaning of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei's missile warning

On March 30, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected Western pressure for Iran to stop testing ballistic missiles and a statement by a former Iranian president favoring negotiations instead of the missile program by warning in a speech: “People say that tomorrow’s world is a world of negotiations and not a world of missiles.”  Khamenei added, “If they say this thoughtlessly, it shows that they are thoughtless. However, if this is intentional, then this is treachery.”

Khamenei’s defiant comments came in the midst of growing international concerns about Iran’s missile program.  Iran tested two ballistic missiles last fall and several over the last month.  Written on the sides of two missiles recently tested by Iran reportedly were the words "Israel should be wiped from the pages of history."  Iran is expected to soon launch a space-launch rocket that most experts believe will be a test to develop an ICBM capable of firing nuclear warheads against Europe and the United States.

Iran has the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East and is the only nation in history to develop missiles with ranges of 2,000 km or more without having a nuclear weapons capability.  Although Iran claims its missiles are not intended to carry nuclear warheads, most experts believe they are being developed as a nuclear weapons delivery system.  The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany said in a joint letter sent this week to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Iran’s recent missile launches were “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

This is why most observers expected a missile test moratorium to be part of the Iran nuclear deal.  At first this seemed to be the case when President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry said last July that under the deal Tehran would honor UN Security Council resolutions for eight years that bar ballistic missile tests.

However, it turned out this was not the case since language barring Iranian missile tests is not present in the actual text of the nuclear deal -- it is buried in a July 2015 UN Security Council resolution which endorsed the deal.  This means Iran can conduct missile tests without violating the nuclear deal and causing the sanctions it lifted to be reimposed.

Khamenei’s recent comments echo earlier statements by Iranian officials who have said Iran never agreed to any restrictions on its missile program in the nuclear deal.  These comments also reflect increased Iranian belligerent behavior and rhetoric since the nuclear agreement was announced last July which goes against claims by Obama officials that the agreement would lead to an improvement in Iranian behavior and bring Iran into the community of nations.

Khamenei and the Iranian leadership do not want to join the community of nations – they want Iran to become a regional hegemon that will dominate the Middle East.  They agreed to a nuclear agreement that they know is a fraud since it allows Iran to conduct nuclear activities while it is in effect, such as uranium enrichment and development of advanced enrichment centrifuges, that will actually shorten the timeline to an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Khamenei’s claim that tomorrow’s world is a world of missiles really means he believes tomorrow’s world is a nuclear-armed Iran because transporting nuclear warheads is the only purpose of Iran’s growing ballistic missile arsenal.

Khamenei knows he will get away with pressing forward with Iran’s missile because the Obama administration is so desperate to protect the president’s legacy nuclear agreement that it will not support any meaningful action against Iran in response to the missile tests.

This means Iran’s ability to make nuclear fuel and develop a nuclear weapons delivery system will make great strides as a result of President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy.  This will be Barack Obama’s real foreign policy legacy.

It is urgent that next American president reverse this disastrous legacy by tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran on his first day in office and initiate a new strategy to halt all Iranian nuclear weapons-related activities, require Iran to fully account for its past nuclear weapons work, and stop Iran’s ballistic missile program.