Iranian presidential candidate Mostafa Mir-Salim claimed on Monday that Iranian diplomats had asked the country’s military to conduct a missile launch to boost Tehran’s position vis-à-vis world powers during the nuclear negotiations. In reply to a question on the campaign trail as to why Iran test-fired missiles during the negotiations, Mir-Salim said: “This was a request by the negotiators. If you don’t believe it, ask the defense minister.” He did not elaborate on the issue, but the Rouhani government was quick to reject the allegations. A Foreign Ministry official hours later said “negotiators were very sensitive about removing restrictions of the dangerous 1929 [U.N. Security Council] Resolution, which was imposed on Iran’s missile program under the previous administration.” On Tuesday, the Iranian Defense Ministry also rejected Mir-Salim’s claim. “The allegation by this presidential candidate is inaccurate. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s missile tests are carried out in accordance to a specific, per-determined plan and are not linked with such issues.”

Comment: The missile program has been one of the most controversial topics in the current presidential campaign in Iran. This is despite the fact that the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces had previously warned the six presidential candidates in an official letter not to express views on the country’s military and defense matters during the campaign season.

While all Iranian leaders agree that the Islamic Republic should defy international pressure and continue and advance its missile power, they disagree on how to approach the United States on the issue. The Rouhani government prefers to continue the missile program under the radar and avoid provocations, whereas the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) boasts about the launch of new ballistic missiles to project power and demonstrate defiance to pressure by Washington and its allies.

Last week, Rouhani aroused the ire of the Iranian military establishment after he accused the I.R.G.C. of trying to sabotage the nuclear deal by writing anti-Israel slogans on ballistic missiles.  “What did they do in order to undermine the J.C.P.O.A.?” Rouhani asked, referring to the I.R.G.C. “They wrote slogans on a missile so that we cannot use the J.C.P.O.A.,” he added, pointing to the I.R.G.C. test-launch of a ballistic missile in March 2016 which had “Israel should be wiped off the Earth” inscribed on it in Hebrew.

On Monday, the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces criticized Rouhani and reiterated that the country’s missile program is not covered under the nuclear agreement. “It is not appropriate for a candidate and official to relate the projection of the nation’s missile power – which has been attained through the blessing of the blood of martyrs and has deterred enemies’ threats – to a trivial matter such as J.C.P.O.A,” said Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri.

Separately, Brigadier General Gholamhossein Ghaib-Parvar, who was appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei the new head of the Basij Organization in December, also blasted the president’s comment. “Is the slogan of death to Israel on a missile a bad thing? In principle, the annihilation of Israel is one of our goals,” he emphasized.

Since the signing of the nuclear agreement almost two years ago, Iran has put increased emphasis on its missile program and has test-fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles. The Iranian missile program has also been a major source of tension between Tehran and Washington since President Donald Trump took office in January. But despite the Trump administration’s warnings and additional U.S. sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities involved in the missile activity, the Islamic Republic is moving full steam ahead with the missile program. “Iran has increased the range, precision and longevity of its ballistic missiles and will continue to increase its defensive power, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan said in February.