Iran could be willing to give up its advanced missile systems currently in development in exchange for a broader nuclear deal with the US, a former American diplomat said on Monday.
Its arsenal of ballistic missiles is achieving ever-greater accuracy, size and sophistication, a webinar held by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank heard.
This is attracting considerable concern in security circles, participants said.
There is a growing threat that the Tehran regime will be able to combine its nuclear weapons programme with its solid-fuel rockets to create a viable intercontinental ballistic missile, similar to those developed by North Korea.
The EU said on Monday that talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear accord would resume on Tuesday.
The IISS gathered its leading experts on missiles and the Middle East to deliver a report on the dangers now posed by Iran’s extensive missile programme.
Washington is expected to demand that Tehran halts the ICBM and other advanced programmes in exchange for an end to sanctions.
While the regime would refuse any reduction to its stockpile, it might contemplate ending its development of bigger weapons with greater range and accuracy, said Mark Fitzpatrick, head of the IISS non-proliferation and nuclear policy programme.
“I think there are some systems that Iran would be willing to negotiate,” said the former diplomat, who served as a US foreign services officer for three decades.
“And the ones that haven’t been fully developed are the ones that they would be most willing to put on the negotiating table.”
He named the medium-range Khorramshahr and Sajjil programmes as potential bartering tools in a future deal.
Iran might also be willing to accept the 2,000-kilometre limit on the range of its missiles, he said.
Asked about the threat posed by Iran’s increasingly sophisticated missiles, Mr Fitzpatrick said that because range in the Middle East was relatively short, precision was the biggest concern.
“They can be used in wartime to attack the air bases that adversaries would use to generate high numbers of air sorties that would be vital in any war,” he told The National.
“That is of concern in a wartime scenario.”
He also warned that if Iran developed a nuclear missile, it would create “a crescendo of proliferation in the region”, with other countries looking to deter an attack.
“Of course, it’s the combination of nuclear weapons on highly capable missiles that would present the greatest danger,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
The discussion on the IISS report, titled Open-Source Analysis of Iran’s Missile and UAV Capabilities and Proliferation, concluded that Iran’s missile proliferation efforts have profoundly destabilising consequences for the region.
It suggested that Iran was on “three potential pathways” that would allow it to acquire an ICBM, “so it would be good if they didn’t put down the North Korean pathway,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
The report found that the Zuljanah space rocket could travel up to 5,000km carrying a one-tonne warhead and would be a pathway for Iran to develop an ICBM.
Other report authors highlighted concerns over missiles given to Iran’s proxies Hezbollah and to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“It’s just very unclear how direct Iranian control is – whether it’s more indirect – and that could have major implications in future escalations,” said Fabian Hinz, an expert on missile proliferation.