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Iran seeks to force more US concessions by building longer-range ballistic missiles

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a ceremony while awarding medals of honor to its nuclear negotiators who helped clinch a landmark deal with world powers last year, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) -- Iran's military is seeking to force the Obama administration to make more concessions by aggressively building longer-range ballistic missiles capable of threatening American interests, according to a letter from a top general to the country's president.

The letter from Major General Mohsen Rezaei to President Hassan is the latest provocation from Iranian hardliners since the US and Western interests agreed to ease sanctions on Iran in return for the country delaying its nuclear bomb ambitions.

It follows the capturing of U.S. sailors, the firing rockets near a U.S. carrier, and the flying of drones over U.S. and French carriers and it claims the U.S. only was willing to make a nuclear deal because Tehran aggressively pursued a renegade nuclear bomb program that violated UN sanctions.

"Just as Iran's success in developing 20,000 centrifuges was a slap in the face of the United States and forced the Americans to come to the negotiating table and recognize our right to enrich uranium, I am hoping that with your support, the range of Iran's missiles will exceed 5,000 kilometers [3,106 miles]," Gen. Rezaei wrote the president.

The expanded reach of the missiles would threaten the U.S. and its allies by putting American military installations and Europe within range of an Iranian missile, which currently can only travel 2,000 kilometers.

The Obama administration last month imposed new sanctions on Iran - targeting 11 individuals and companies involved in ballistic missile program - as retribution for two test missile launches the country conducted late last year.

Security experts said the latest threat from Gen. Rezaei shows Iran's hardliners are still flexing their muscles in the aftermath of the nuclear deal and despite the moderate rhetoric of Rouhani.

Iran isn't like in "preparation for new negotiations with the United States, at least not in any near-term," explained retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency. " Rather, I think it represents the so-called hardliners in Iran reasserting their position In any event, Iran pushing ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missiles) limits is not at all surprising."

Iranian officials in the U.S. did not have immediate comment about their missile program.

Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst who serves as a senior vice president at the Center for Security Policy, agreed Iran has wanted to expand the range of its missiles and that hasn't been slowed by the nuke deal. "I think that is the direction the Iranian missile program has been going," he said.

Fleitz added that if Iran was close to obtaining missiles with a 5,000 kilometer range, it "would be such a major development for Iran's missile program that the U.S. probably would try to strike a deal to stop them."

Others doubt Iran has the resources to get a missile range expansion completed, at least not any time soon.

Michael Elleman, Consulting Senior Fellow for Regional Security Cooperation at International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Iran could develop the missiles but it doesn't "have the capabilities to make it operationally viable until 2020.

"They have the wherewithal to do it (develop a 5,000 kilometer missile) but it will take a lot of time, energy, and money I don't think they will do it," he said.

Despite Iran's capacity to develop a ballistic missile that could travel 5,000 kilometer, Barbara Slavin, Acting Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, agrees that Iran is unlikely to develop the missiles and sees the letter as "more propaganda than real."

Whether or not the Iranians develop long range ballistic missiles, Hayden said the country continues to strive to become the dominant regional power in the Persian Gulf.

This may be another case of [Iran] attempting to humiliate the United States [by] driving down U.S. influence and prestige in the area in the service of Iran's hegemonic ambitions," he said.

Elleman, much like General Hayden, sees the recent provocative actions by Iran as their way of "trying to send signals that they are not going to be deterred they are trying to establish themselves as the hegemon in the region."

Other than statements, the U.S. has resisted responding to these aggressive tactics. According to Elleman the lack of response is a sign that, "the U.S. government hasn't established a long term strategy for dealing with Iran outside of the nuclear field."

The next sign of whether the U.S. has a strategy will be when Iran launches a satellite into orbit. "When Iran, probably this month, will launch a satellite into earth's orbit using a very large booster rocket that will cause considerable consternation this is going to be the big question coming up in the next month. What will the reaction and what should the reaction be towards the satellite launch using a very large booster rocket? Larger than anything they have tested to date."

Fleitz also sees the satellite launch as the next test and threat to America. "They are going to test a space launch this month. And this is a test of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) don't listen to the propaganda that they are trying to put a satellite into orbit. They are testing a missile that is intended to strike the United States and Europe."

Elleman disagrees that the satellite launch is a missile test, "there will be claims that this represents a long range missile capability and I am not sure that is indeed an accurate statement."

Yet, Elleman also downplays the ability to predict what Iran will or will not do, "I have learned never to be too surprised by anything they do."

Raffi Williams is a contributor to Sinclair Broadcast Group

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