Iran accused the United States of “deception” on Saturday and insisted its missiles are for self-defence only after a top US official charged that the Islamic republic could rain missiles down on Europe.

“The Islamic Republic’s missile capability has been designed and implemented to defend against any military aggression and it does not threaten any nation,” Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in a statement carried by state media.

He was reacting to remarks by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday that US intelligence has shown that Iran could attack Europe with “scores or hundreds” of missiles, prompting major changes to US missile defences.

Washington seeks to “expand its domination over Europe, and to find an excuse not to dismantle its nuclear weapons stationed in the region, while putting the pressure on Russia and surrounding it,” Vahidi said.

“The US seeks to create regional discord and impair (Moscow’s) regional ties to humiliate Russia and weaken its relations with neighbouring countries,” he added, urging Russia not to fall for “US deception and psychological war.”

US President Barack Obama in September cited a mounting danger from Iran’s arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles when he announced an overhaul of American missile defence plans.

The new programme uses sea- and land-based interceptors to protect NATO allies in the region, instead of mainly larger weapons designed to counter long-range missiles.

Gates said the United States believed “that if Iran were actually to launch a missile attack on Europe… it would more likely be a salvo kind of attack, where you would be dealing potentially with scores or even hundreds of missiles.”

Iran is under mounting international pressure over its controversial nuclear programme of uranium enrichment which the West fears masks a covert weapons drive.

The Islamic republic vehemently denies the charge, but has been flexing its military muscle mainly in the strategic Gulf region by staging regular war games and showcasing an array of Iran-manufactured missiles.

The United States and its top regional ally Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, have never ruled out a military strike to curb Iran’s atomic drive.

Iran has vowed to deliver a crushing response if it comes under attack.

It has developed more than a dozen short- and medium-range (up to 2,000 kilometres, 1,240 miles) missiles and continues to expand its ballistic missile capability, even launching satellite carriers into space despite UN sanctions.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has estimated that Tehran will have the capability to fire missiles at western Europe by 2014, but that it will need at least a decade to be able to target the United States.

Despite close economic and energy ties with Iran, Russia supported the latest round of sanctions against Iran on June 9 and froze a deal to sell S-300 anti-missile systems to Tehran.

The deal has been in the pipeline for years and was strongly opposed by both Israel and the United States.