Iran will not discuss its ballistic missiles program as part of nuclear talks, minister says

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By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Tehran will not discuss its ballistic missiles as part of ongoing talks with world powers on a final agreement to curb the Iranian nuclear program, the country's defense minister said Wednesday.

The remarks by Gen. Hossein Dehghan came as a rebuff of recent comments by U.S. State Department's nuclear negotiator, Wendy Sherman, who said Iran's ballistic capabilities should be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement with Iran.

Iran's ballistic program has also been a concern for the West since ballistic missile can be used to deliver nuclear warheads. Iran insists the missile program has no nuclear dimensions but is also adamant that its defense industry is a "red line" as a topic at the nuclear talks.

The U.S. has argued that a U.N. Security Council resolution bans Iran from "undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons."

But Dehghan said Iran's missile program has "nothing to do" with the nuclear negotiations and that it has no nuclear dimensions.

"Iran's missiles are not up for discussion under any circumstances," he told the semiofficial Fars news agency. "Iran's missiles are only our concern ... We don't accept any intervention from anybody on this issue."

Tehran has developed a series of missiles, some of which have a range 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) — enough to reach much of the Middle East. Military commanders have described them as a strategic asset and a strong deterrent, capable of hitting U.S. bases or Israel in the event of a strike on Iran.

The Pentagon released a rare public report in 2012 noting significant advances in Iran's missiles technology and acknowledging that Tehran has improved their accuracy and firing capabilities.

Iran and six world powers — the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany — reached an interim deal in November that put limits on Iran's uranium enrichment program in return for the easing of some sanctions. Core sanctions, however, remain in place — including measures targeting Iran's oil exports, the pillar of its economy.

Talks are ongoing for a final deal that would remove all possibilities that the Islamic Republic could use its capabilities to build a nuclear weapon.

The talks are to continue on May 13 and the future scope of Iran's uranium enrichment program has remained the toughest issue.

In a positive sign, diplomats said Tuesday that the United Nations will release a report this week certifying that Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb has been greatly reduced because it has diluted half of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium, which is only a technical step away from the 90-percent grade used to arm nuclear weapons

The move was part of Iran's commitments under the interim deal. The diplomats, who are familiar with Iran's adherence to its commitments, demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report, due for release Wednesday or Thursday.

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Associated Press writer George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.

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