The Islamic Republic will not stop boosting the country’s missile power under U.S. pressure, the Iranian defense minister told a gathering of law enforcement officials in Tehran on Sunday. Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan also rejected latest allegations by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – an Iranian dissident group in exile also called Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) – about the Iranian military running a covert nuclear program in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement.  “It is astonishing that American officials fall into a trap by the same worn-out rope of hypocrites [a term Iranian leaders use for MEK] that specialize in terror and treason against the people of their own country,” he said. “Without doubt, this evil conspiracy of hypocrites will fail. The vigilant and revolutionary Iranian nation has never accepted humiliation and threat. Nor will it accept in the future. It will not spare a moment to execute its role in the region and in the world as well as to strengthen its defense and deterrent power,” he emphasized.  

Comment: Dehghan’s comment marks the latest episode of a war of words between Tehran and Washington that has escalating over the past three months. After Iran test-fired a ballistic missile in late January, the Trump administration put Iran “officially on notice” and imposed new sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities linked with the country’s missile program. Washington says Tehran’s launch of ballistic missiles violates the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 because such missiles can inherently carry nuclear warheads. The Iranian government has so far defied the pressure from the U.S. and its allies by testing more missiles and vowing to further enhance its missile activities. President Hassan Rouhani said earlier this month that his government will seek no one’s permission to build missiles and upgrade its defense capabilities.

Dehghan’s remark came after the NCRI claimed in a news conference in Washington that the Iranian military was running a clandestine nuclear weaponization program at the Parchin military base. The White House said it was “carefully evaluating" the NCRI’s claims against “the best intelligence reporting and analysis available to the United States.” This is despite the fact that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last Wednesday that Iran was in compliance with the nuclear deal.

But Tillerson at the same time emphasized that the Trump administration will push back against Tehran’s ballistic missile program and destabilizing role in the Middle East. The U.S. Senate has temporarily delayed a bill that imposes new sanctions on Iran related to its ballistic missile program and other non-nuclear activities in order not to impact the upcoming Iranian election scheduled for May 19.