Intelligence gathered by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, indicated Iran had conducted secret research to affix a nuclear weapon to a long-range Shahab-3 missile.
The U.S. and its allies view Iran's missiles as part of the country's potential nuclear threat, thus a subject for the talks on a permanent nuclear agreement. "They have to deal with matters related to their ballistic missile program," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
But Iran says the missiles are part of its defense establishment and beyond the limits of nuclear talks. In any case, the issue of whether Iran's ballistic missile capabilities will be on the agenda already has exposed a rift between the Americans and Iranians. Last week, Iran's elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, successfully test-fired what state media described as two domestically made ballistic missiles.
The missiles are estimated to have ranges of at least 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) and could be capable of striking Israel and American military targets in the Middle East, though military experts question their accuracy. U.S. officials, however, pushed back on Tuesday at the talks and insisted Iran's ballistic missile capabilities will be addressed as part of any final accord on the nuclear program. "Every issue is on the table as part of the comprehensive negotiations, including Iran's ballistic missile program," said a senior administration official at the talks.