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Joint US, EU Letter to UN Falls Short of Calling Iranian Missile Launches Violations

A joint letter sent by the United States and European Union to United Nations officials this week criticizes recent Iranian ballistic missile launches but omits language describing the launches as a “violation” of the UN Security Council resolution that codified the nuclear deal with Iran, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The outlet’s UN correspondent wrote that the letter describes Iran’s missile tests as “inconsistent with” and “in defiance” of UNSC resolution 2231, but pointedly does not label them violations. However, last December, when asked by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) if Iranian missile launches after implementation of the nuclear deal would constitute a violation, Ambassador Stephen Mull, lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation, replied that “it would violate that part of the U.N. Security Council resolution.”

Iran has conducted five ballistic missile launches since the nuclear deal was announced in July. Photos of the last test distributed by the Iranians showed a missile inscribed in Hebrew with the phrase “Israel must be wiped off the Earth.” Efforts by American diplomats in New York to hold the Iranians accountable for the missile launches were stymied by Russia, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, which said that the language agreed to by American and European diplomats in UNSC resolution 2231 was too weak for the Iranian launches to constitute a “violation.” UNSC resolution 2231 weakened the prohibition on ballistic missile work in the previously relevant UNSC resolution 1929, which it replaced. While UNSC resolution 1929 stated that Iran “shall not” engage in activity related to ballistic missiles, in resolution 2231 Iran is “called upon” not to undertake in activity related to ballistic missiles.

At a Senate hearing last July, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) challenged Secretary of State John Kerry on the concession. Kerry insisted that the language had not changed, saying, “the same language as is in the embargo now — we transferred it to this and that’s what it is.” According to the Reuters report, however, “[d]iplomats say key powers agree that request is not legally binding and cannot be enforced under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter… But Western nations, which view the language as a ban, say there is a political obligation on Iran to comply.”

In the absence of multilateral options, lawmakers are moving to pass unilateral sanctions. These include the Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016, introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), which aims to impose sanctions on sectors of the Iranian economy that directly or indirectly support Iran’s ballistic missile program including the automotive, energy, construction and mining industries; as well as the Iran Terrorism and Human Rights Sanctions Act of 2016, introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), which would impose sanctions on entities in which the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or its affiliates have an ownership stake of at least 25%. Kirk’s bill would also target sectors of the Iranian economy that support its ballistic missile program.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei asserted on Wednesday that missiles, rather than negotiations, are key to Iran’s future. “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors,” he said.

[Photo: / Flickr ]