The Obama administration is dodging a congressional inquiry into its refusal to designate recent Iranian ballistic missile tests as a violation of an international statute barring such tests, prompting frustration on Capitol Hill from lawmakers who accuse the administration of breaking past promises to enforce the missile ban, according to recent communications sent by the State Department and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Lawmakers launched an investigation earlier this month into what they describe as Obama administration efforts to mislead Congress about the nature of last summer’s comprehensive nuclear agreement.
The administration’s refusal to say that Iran’s missile tests violated the nuclear agreement has emerged as a key diplomatic sticking point in recent months and prompted congressional leaders to launch an investigation into claims that the administration misled lawmakers about the terms of the deal.
Administration officials initially promised Congress that United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which formally governs the nuclear deal, would prohibit Iran’s ballistic missile program. However, the resolution only "calls upon" Iran to refrain from these tests, sparking accusations from lawmakers that the administration is rewriting the terms of the nuclear agreement.
Reps. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), and Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.) petitioned the State Department in a letter this month to explain its shift on the ballistic missile issue.
"While many lawmakers, ourselves included, are certain that Iran’s latest tests violate UNSCR 2231, your decision to cease labeling the launches a violation is alarming," they wrote. "We are troubled by reports that the administration is stifling voices within its ranks for stronger action against Iran—putting the [nuclear agreement] and political legacy above the safety and security of the American people."
The State Department, in its response to the letter, continued to dodge questions about the shift in policy, declining to provide lawmakers with information about why it no longer views Iran’s missile tests as a violation, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Free Beacon.
A senior congressional source working on the issue accused the State Department of dodging key questions raised by lawmakers in their initial inquiry.
"It looks like the State Department did not feel a need to answer any of Congressman Pompeo’s questions," the source said. "Given the complete disconnect between what the Obama Administration testified to Congress about Iranian ballistic missile tests, and how it is behaving now, it is no wonder Pompeo is asking these questions. I am not sure how much longer President Obama and his staff can dance around these issues while avoiding legitimate inquires like this one."
The State Department described the recent Iranian tests as inconsistent with the U.N. resolution, but would not call them a violation.
"We have long been concerned about Iran’s ballistic missile program," the State Department wrote. "Iran’s efforts to develop increasingly capable ballistic missile systems remain one of our most significant nonproliferation challenges and a very real threat to regional and international security."
The resolution only "calls upon Iran not to undertake any launches of ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon," according to the State Department. "We regard Iran’s March ballistic missile launches to be clearly covered by this provision."
The administration vowed to continue sanctioning Iranian entities complicit in the ballistic missile program and said it is primarily concerned with resolving the issue at the U.N. Security Council.
During recent talks with international partners, the administration "rejected the notion that it is in any way excusable for Iran—or any other country—to behave contrary to the clear and unanimous express of the Security Council’s will," the State Department wrote.
"We sent U.S. missile experts to New York to brief on the launches at this meeting to make clear to our Council partners that the launches were inconsistent with the resolution and needed a Security Council response," the State Department disclosed.
However, the administration admitted that the U.N. is not likely to act on the issue due to opposition by member states such as Russia and China.
"Further action in the Security Council can be blocked by other permanent members of the Council," the administration said in its letter. "We will continue to use the Security Council to discuss such missile launches and increase the political costs to Iran of its behavior."
The administration further vowed to help its partners in the region boost their missile defenses to protect against Iranian aggression.