February 10, 2021
Iranians staged a socially-distanced commemoration of their 1979 revolution on Wednesday, parading in vehicles to avoid infection rather than on foot, as Tehran showed off ballistic missiles in defiance of Western efforts to curtail the programme.
State television showed live footage of cars, motorcycles and bicycles moving through the streets of dozens of cities and towns where normally tens of thousands of people march at the annual event.
Despite the switch to wheel-bound forms of parade, the ceremony’s sentiments remained unchanged. Participants waved Iranian flags and signs that read “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” – trademark slogans of the Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.
Iran, the Middle East country worst hit by COVID-19, has registered around 59,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases. Authorities launched a vaccination drive on Tuesday, focussing initially on hospital intensive care personnel.
In an online speech, President Hassan Rouhani raised the prospect of “dialogue” with outside powers if there were reciprocal moves to break an impasse over a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
“The moment that they honour their commitments under the deal, we will adhere to our commitments … I am certain that the world will choose the path of dialogue with Iran,” Rouhani said.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said that if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the deal, Washington would follow suit and use that as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s missile development and regional activities.
Ruling out talks over its military capabilities, Tehran insists that Washington should take the first step by lifting all sanctions reimposed on Iran after former President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018.
The U.S. sanctions, coupled with the coronavirus crisis, have devastated economy in Iran, where according to official data in September over 50% of Iranians live below the poverty line.
State TV showed three ballistic missiles on display in Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square, with ranges from 700 to 1,000 km, (435 to 620 miles) according to state media.
It also aired footage of underground missile bases that the elite Revolutionary Guards had unveiled in the past years.
Iran has insisted its nuclear programme is to generate power and for other peaceful purposes. But U.S. intelligence agencies and the United Nations nuclear watchdog believe Iran once had a nuclear weapons programme that it halted.