A deadly explosion at a missile development plant last month has not affected Iran's ballistic missile programme, its top general said in comments published on Saturday.
Armed forces chief of staff General Hassan Firouzabadi said the death of Iranian military experts at the Bid Ganeh base outside Tehran on November 12 "had no effect on the self-sufficiency unit" of the elite Revolutionary Guards -- responsible for weapons research, the Resalat newspaper reported.
"The forces and military weapons of the Islamic republic, including ballistic missiles, are more than ready to confront the enemy," he said.
The blast killed at least 36 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards, including a key figure in Iran's ballistic missile programme, Major General Hassan Moqaddam.
Firouzabadi reiterated repeated assertions by Iran that the blast was accidental, suggesting that safety measures may have been neglected.
Iranian commanders "who have experienced dangerous situations (during the 1980-88 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq)... do not take safety measures seriously," he said.
Following the blast, Firouzabadi had said that work at the plant had been delayed by only two weeks as a result.
But commercial satellite photographs of the facility released by a private Washington institute suggested the explosion had caused serious destruction, with some buildings completely razed.
"The entire facility was essentially destroyed," said Paul Brannan, a senior analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which posted the images this week.
"It looks like almost half of the buildings are gone and what's left are the skeletons of the buildings. I would call that a complete destruction of the facility," Brannan, who wrote an analysis of the pictures, told AFP on Wednesday.
The plant appears to have been used for the development of a new long-range ballistic missile, according to fragmentary reports published by Iranian media.
Following the blast, Firouzabadi said the base was being used for the production of an unspecified "experimental product" that could be used against the United States or Israel.
General Moqaddam's brother, Mohammad, himself a Guards commander, spoke of a "project related to intercontinental ballistic missiles," which "was in its final phase" and was "completely hi-tech and secret" -- in remarks he later retracted.
The Islamic republic already possesses several types of medium-range missile, some capable of reaching Israel or US bases in the Middle East -- both stated targets for retaliation in the event that Iranian facilities are attacked.
Iran's ballistic programme, which along with its nuclear activities is subject to UN sanctions, has created worries in the international community that Tehran could succeed in producing missiles capable of delivering an atomic warhead.
Tehran denies any such ambition and says its nuclear programme is for civil energy and medical purposes only.