U.S. Gears Up for Showdown With Russia Over Iran Missile Tests

Battle with Moscow expected over support of Iran

Iran missile test
Iran missile test, which took place on March 9 / AP
March 15, 2016

The United States is preparing for a diplomatic showdown with Russia as it prepares to release an official report accusing Iran of breaching international accords prohibiting the test firing of ballistic missiles, according to Obama administration officials familiar with the situation.

The United States has been pressuring partner nations on the U.N. Security Council to publicly chastise Iran for a series of ballistic missile tests that the Obama administration claims violate international accords.

Russia broke ranks with the United States this week by siding with Iran, which claims that the tests do not violate the recently-implemented nuclear agreement.

Iran and its allies argue that the U.N. resolutions governing the nuclear deal only suggest that the Islamic Republic abstain from testing ballistic missiles, a claim the United States has publicly opposed in recent days.

One U.S. official familiar with discussions surrounding the issue told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday that the administration is now gearing up for a diplomatic battle with Russia at the U.N.

The United States and its allies on the Security Council, including Germany, will submit a report to the U.N. Security Council by the end of the week outlining Iranian violations of U.N. Resolution 2231, which governs the nuclear agreement reached last year.

"Contrary to what the Russians believe, we, the U.S., strongly believe that the launches by Iran do fall under the scope of 2231," the official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue on record, told the Free Beacon.

"Ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a range of at least 300 kilometers are inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons," the source said. "We intend to submit the relevant technical information needed to make the point and we’ll go from there."

The source noted that U.S. officials "expect this will continue to be a point of contention with the Russians."

In its first public comment on the issue, Russia stated this week that it stands with Iran, which has long claimed that ballistic missile tests are no longer banned by the U.N.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated on Monday that the newest U.N. resolution governing the nuclear agreement only suggests that Iran stop test firing missiles.

"A call is different from a ban so legally you cannot violate a call, you can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call," Churkin was quoted as saying. "The legal distinction is there."

These comments have set the stage for a showdown with Moscow, and left State Department officials scrambling to respond on Monday.

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that the United States is preparing to "raise the matter directly" at the Security Council.

Kirby said that the United States differs with Russia on the matter and views Iran's missiles tests as "provocative and destabilizing."

"They are also, at the very least, inconsistent with, but more practically in defiance of, the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which of course codified the Iran deal," Kirby added.

While Kirby declined to elaborate on the differences between previous U.N. resolutions and current ones, he told reporters "We’re comfortable we have a strong case."

One foreign policy consultant familiar with discussions on the issue told the Free Beacon that the administration's U.N. team in New York has been working overtime to convince officials in Washington, D.C., to aggressively pursue the issue.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., "is clearly furious with Russian protection for Iran and is dragging the rest of the administration along with her in an attempt to do something that holds the Iranians accountable for their illegal missile launches," the source said.

Iran hawks in Congress also have been pressuring the administration to take aggressive action aimed at holding Iran accountable for these tests.

Critics of the nuclear agreement say that while the Obama administration claimed during its negotiation with Iran that the deal would strictly prohibit this activity, senior officials caved in the final days before the deal was reached.

Meanwhile, Iran and Russia have continued to boost their diplomatic ties in the months since the nuclear deal was enacted.

Iran recently inked an $8 billion arms deal with Moscow, which includes the purchase of advanced fighter jets and defensive artillery.

The United States reserves the right to veto portions of the arms deal, though it remains unclear if the Obama administration will follow through with this action at the U.N.

A State Department official told the Free Beacon in mid-February that the department is "aware" of the arms deal and would express "concern about specific transactions" through its diplomatic channels.

Published under: Iran , Russia