Iran's supreme leader has described as "stupid and idiotic" Western expectations for his country to curb its missile development, striking a defiant tone ahead of a fresh round of nuclear talks scheduled to begin today.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Iran's Revolutionary Guards to mass produce missiles and said the nuclear negotiations were not the place to discuss Tehran's defence programme or to solve the problem of sanctions damaging the Iranian economy.
"They expect us to limit our missile programme while they constantly threaten Iran with military action," Khamenei was quoted as telling the IRNA news agency while on a visit to an aeronautics fair held by the Revolutionary Guards.
"So this is a stupid, idiotic expectation ... The Revolutionary Guards should definitely carry out their programme and not be satisfied with the present level. They should mass produce. This is a main duty of all military officials."
Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia will reconvene in Vienna today to try to iron out differences over how to end a long standoff over suspicions that Tehran has sought the means to develop nuclear weapons.
While missiles are not at the heart of the talks over Iran's nuclear work, which centre on the production of fissile material usable in atomic bombs, Western countries would like them on the agenda at the nuclear discussions. Iran has one of the biggest missile programmes in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential precautionary defence against the US and other adversaries such as Israel.
Iran denies accusations that it is seeking a capability to make nuclear weapons. It insists that the missiles are part of its conventional armed forces and rules out including them on the agenda of the nuclear discussions.
Khamenei's comments appeared at odds with more conciliatory remarks earlier by President Hassan Rowhani, who said he wanted Iran to do a better job of explaining its nuclear programme to prevent "evil-minded" people misleading world opinion. "What we can offer the world is greater transparency," he said in a speech at a ceremony celebrating Iran's scientific achievements.
Rowhani is a relative moderate compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who used strident rhetoric during his eight years in office, serving to shore up international resolve to curb Iran's nuclear programme.