Iran’s recent test firing of a ballistic missile does not violate the recent nuclear deal, Obama administration officials said on Monday. However, nuclear experts disagree and are calling on the administration to hold Iran accountable for violating international agreements barring such action.
Iran announced over the weekend that it had successfully test-fired a domestically produced long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile.
Iran maintained that the test does not violate the nuclear deal, though U.S. experts quibbled with this analysis.
Asked to address the reports on Monday, John Kirby, a spokesman for the State Department, said that the administration is "aware of reports that Iran is conducting a new round of missile tests."
"We will take appropriate actions at the United Nations if these tests violate any existing UN Security Council resolutions," Kirby said in the statement. "Separately, we remain confident in our ability to defend ourselves and our allies in the region. And we will continue to work closely with our regional partners to boost their capabilities to defend themselves against any threats by Iran."
However, Secretary of State John Kerry has stated in the past that such tests would not violate the accord. The State Department maintains that this is still its position.
Kerry informed Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) in recent correspondence obtained by the Free Beacon that a ballistic missile test would not violate the accord.
"It would not be a violation of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] if Iran tested a conventional ballistic missile," Kerry wrote to Rubio.
Ballistic missile testing is not addressed in the nuclear accord, but rather by newly implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"Since the Security Council has called upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, any such activity would be inconsistent with the UNSCR and a serious matter for the Security Council to review," Kerry wrote to Rubio.
Iran has also maintained that its ongoing ballistic missile work does not violate the JCPOA. Iranian official have said that it will continue to violate U.N. resolutions barring such work.
"To follow our defense programs, we don't seek permission from anyone," the Iranian diplomat Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying over the weekend by Iran’s IRNA news agency.
U.S. nuclear experts took issue with Iran’s interpretation and said that the recent missile test is an opportunity for the Obama administration to put its foot down.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, described the situation as a "test case" for the Obama administration.
"This is a clear violation of Annex B paragraph 3 of UNSCR 2231 (2015) and a test case for the Obama administration to make it clear to Iran that a violation of UNSCR 2231 will be considered a violation of the JCPOA despite Iranian regime protestations to the contrary," Dubowitz said.
Iran is prohibited under this resolution from testing missiles and "any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons."
The test came several days after Iran’s parliament issued a report declaring that Tehran would violate the JCPOA’s restrictions on weapons. A translation of the report performed by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies noted that the parliament was rejecting U.N. resolutions that are "apparently the JCPOA’s only legal backing."
Other experts said the test marks a clear violation of the deal, one that the administration should immediately address.
"If the missile launch is not a violation of the Iran deal, then it shows just how comically bad the Iran deal actually was: it'd be a nuclear deal that doesn't stop Iran from developing missiles to deliver nuclear weapons," said Omri Ceren, managing director at the Israel Project, an organization opposed to the terms of the final deal.
"But even if the launch doesn't violate the agreement, it’s a blatant violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution that gave the agreement force under international law," Ceren explained. "So either it violates the deal, or it violates the resolution that gives the deal force, and either way the Iranians are playing the Obama administration for chumps."