Days after the latest Iranian ballistic missile test, Russia and Iran are telling the Obama administration that Iranian missile tests are not prohibited by the UN Security Council, as the administration argues.
Russia and Iran cited language about ballistic missiles that was changed during last summer’s nuclear negotiations in Vienna. UN Security Council Resolution 1929 had stated plainly: "Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles." During the negotiations, Iran demanded the removal of this uncompromising language in favor of a new, softer formulation.
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The Obama administration complied, resulting in the passage of a new UN Security Council Resolution after the Iran agreement was reached. The new resolution merely "calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles."
The change in language—from the "shall not" requirement of the original resolution to the "calls upon" suggestion of the new one—was the subject of intense questioning by Congress precisely due to the suspicion that the administration had provided a loophole Iran would use to justify missile development.
In one exchange, Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) pressed Secretary of State John Kerry to acknowledge that the change in language was substantive.
"The ban on Iranian ballistic missiles," Menendez told Kerry, "has, in fact, been lifted. The new Security Council resolution is quite clear. Iran is not prohibited from carrying out ballistic missile work." Kerry rejected Menendez: "That is not accurate … [Iran is] restrained from any sharing of missile technology, purchase of missile technology, exchange of missile technology, work on missiles."
In response to the Obama administration’s announcement that it would pursue sanctions after Iran's latest missile test, Russia’s UN Ambassador raised precisely the objection that Menendez and other critics of the deal did: Obama and Kerry removed the prohibition on Iranian ballistic missile work last summer, when they agreed to remove the "shall not" language from the relevant UNSC resolution.