File picture shows ballistic missile being launched from an undisclosed location in Iran. Image Credit: REUTERS

Abu Dhabi: Maximum pressure on the Iranian regime is continuing, as the United States sanctions entities and officials in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes among others, the State Department said.

“The US is open to diplomacy but Iran must first end its violence, bloodshed, and nuclear extortion,” wrote US State Department spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, on her Twitter account.

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In a series of tweets, Ortagus said, “Iranian Minister of Propaganda Javad Zarif returns to the stage at @CFR_Org - again. Seems they never get tired of re-runs. Think Zarif will answer why the Iranian regime hangs gays, stones women, and murders protesters *this* time? Here are a few questions:

1. Before your government executed Navid Afkari, he was repeatedly tortured and his confession televised on Iranian state TV. Do you torture all your political prisoners, or just when you want to televise their confessions and need to make sure they comply?

2. How many children did Iran execute in the last year? Why does Iran have the highest rate (per capita) of child executions in the world? Is it true that your government killed 23 children last November? If not, what happened to them?

3. On what legal basis does Iran execute homosexuals? How many have been executed since you’ve been in your office? Why does your government hang gay men from cranes?

4. How many missiles has Iran transferred to Hizballah and Hamas? How much does Iran pay the groups each year? Where does that money come from?”

For decades, the United States has sought to constrain Iran’s missile programme, both because it poses a conventional military threat to regional stability and because it can provide a delivery capability for nuclear weapons should Iran acquire them.

But despite the efforts of the United States and others to impede Iranian procurement of missile related materials, equipment, and technology and a succession of UN Security Council restrictions imposed largely to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons delivery systems, Iran has managed to acquire the largest and most diverse missile force in the Middle East.

Iranian missile threat

Relying initially on missiles, components, and technology purchased mainly from North Korea and China, but increasingly making advances through indigenous efforts, Iran maintains a force of hundreds of liquid- and solid-propellant short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, now being augmented by land-attack cruise missiles. Although it claims to limit itself to ballistic missiles with a 2,000km range by order of its Supreme Leader and not yet launching ballistic missiles above that range,

Iran pursues at least four paths that it could use to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, including the development of space-launch vehicles based on technologies directly applicable to long-range ballistic missiles.

The Iranians see their missile force as an integral and indispensable part of their national defence strategy, fulfilling key strike roles traditionally taken by manned aircraft, but beyond the capabilities of an Iranian air force hobbled by many years of sanctions.