US intensifies pressure on EU over Iran’s missile tests

US officials are leaning on EU members to punish Iran because the European Union continues to honour the nuclear accord.
Thursday 06/12/2018
 US Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, speaks about potential Iranian threats during a news conference in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2018. (Reuters)
US Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, speaks about potential Iranian threats during a news conference in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2018. (Reuters)

WASHINGTON - The United States has opened a new front in its fight against Iran, saying recent tests of medium-range missiles by Tehran are illegal and should be met with international condemnation and sanctions.

The UN Security Council met in private on December 4 to discuss the test after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran violated a 2015 council resolution concerning missile testing. The council issued no statement after the meeting but the United States and two key European allies condemned Iran’s December 1 test of a missile that US officials said could strike any part of the Middle East and parts of Europe.

“The international community cannot keep turning a blind eye every time Iran blatantly ignores Security Council resolutions,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said after the council meeting.

French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said there was “widely shared concern” among the 15 Security Council members about Iran’s test.

UK Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce said that, while Iran has “legitimate defensive needs,” the missiles that it tested “go way beyond legitimate defensive needs.”

“We look again to Iran to cease [its] destabilising activity and play a constructive role in this very important region,” Pierce added.

Russia, another permanent member of the Security Council, disputed that the test violated the resolution and Iran said it would continue to test-fire ballistic missiles.

“Missile tests are carried out for defence and the country’s deterrence and we will continue this,” Iranian military spokesman Brigadier-General Abolfazl Shekarchi was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency as saying.

The issue before the Security Council concerns Resolution 2231 and whether it fully bans or only calls for Iran to cease testing ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. The Security Council adopted the resolution as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement that waived sanctions against Iran in exchange for Tehran stopping its nuclear-weapons programme.

Before the Security Council meeting, US officials at a NATO conference in Belgium urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Iran over the missile tests. US officials are leaning on EU members because the European Union continues to honour the Iran nuclear accord, giving it some leverage with Iranian leaders.

“It is incumbent upon all nations — especially those that still support the [nuclear] deal — to not ignore the escalating threats,” US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said after US officials met with European counterparts. “Now that we are out of the deal, we have much more freedom to use the diplomatic tools at our disposal to address the entire range of Iran’s threats.”

Asked whether the European Union was moving towards imposing sanctions, Hook replied: “We’re making progress.”

The US effort to punish Iran over its missile tests is the latest effort to isolate Tehran since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord in May and began reinstating economic sanctions. One of Trump’s chief criticisms of the nuclear deal was that it did not address Iran’s missile-development programme.

The European Union has hesitated to sanction Iran over its ballistic-missile testing. Although France, Germany and the United Kingdom proposed missile-related sanctions in March, other EU members, including Italy, blocked the effort because they were seeking to develop business ties with Iran, Reuters reported.

Hook said Europeans were receptive to the US message. “I think there is a growing appreciation among European nations” of Iran’s threat, Hook said, referring to recent Iranian plots to bomb Iranian opposition groups in Paris and assassinate an Arab separatist leader in Denmark. In response, France froze assets of Iran’s spy ministry and Denmark recalled its ambassador from Iran and is leading a push for the European Union to impose new sanctions on Iran.

“Europeans increasingly understand that it is possible to address these threats that exist outside of the nuclear deal,” Hook said. “The nuclear deal, from its inception in the last administration, was never meant to be an obstacle to address any other threat that Iran presents to peace and security.”

The United States has sanctioned individuals and organisations supporting Iran’s missile programme. “We think those sanctions can be effective if more nations can also join us in that effort,” Hook said.