Washington issues new Iran sanctions after missile test
Beirut - Iran’s test-firing of a new medium-range ballistic missile a little over a week after US President Donald Trump took office bore all the signs of being a direct challenge to his untested administration, which has made its hostility towards Iran abundantly clear.
The White House took a tough line, with national security adviser Michael Flynn warning in a statement: “Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.”
That “notice” was given teeth February 3rd when the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against several companies and individuals in Iran and China that the Trump administration said were supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The sanctions bar American or US-based companies from doing businesses with those named by the Treasury Department.
Those sanctioned include Iranian businessman Abdollah Asgharzadeh — already under other US penalties — along with several Chinese companies and suppliers, mainly the Cosailing Business Trading Company in Qingdao. Other groups named include the Rostanian network based in the Gulf region and Lebanon-based Hasan Dehghan Ebrahimi, identified as an IRGC official whose business the Treasury said launders money and goods for Hezbollah.
The UN Security Council met in emergency session on January 31st — two days after Iran’s missile test — at the United States’ behest, to discuss the launch. Trump’s new UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, fiercely denounced Iran’s actions.
“The United States is not naive,” she said after the closed meeting. “We’re not going to stand by. You’re going to see us call them out as we said we would, and you’re going to see us act accordingly.”
The test flight, confirmed February 1st by Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier-General Hossein Dehghan, was carried out two days after Trump issued an executive order banning refugees and the nationals of seven Muslim countries, including Iran, from entering the United States. That mandate raised an international uproar.
US satellites monitored the launch of a Khorramshahr missile at the Semnan test centre, south of Tehran on the edge of Iran’s central Great Salt Desert. US officials said the missile flew 1,010km before it blew up.
Tensions between the United States and Iran centre primarily on the landmark July 2015 agreement between US-led global powers and the Islamic Republic in which Tehran agreed to curtail its contentious nuclear programme in return for the removal of crippling economic sanctions.
During his election campaign, Trump, along with the Israelis, repeatedly attacked the accord negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, as a “catastrophe” because it only delays Iran’s nuclear programme rather than terminating it.
He declared: “My No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” He seeks to renegotiate it to include an outright ban on Iran’s missile development.
The 2015 accord did not include Iran’s extensive ballistic missile programme, under which it has amassed an arsenal of weapons and is constantly improving their range, destructive power and accuracy. Tehran only agreed to sign the accord if it did not include such a stricture.
UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which accompanied the agreement and took effect July 20th, 2015, barred Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years. It also said Iran “is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology”.
In a January 6th report on friction between the United States and Iran on the implementation of the 2015 agreement, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group observed that the pact remains vulnerable and that missile tests worsen prospects that it might unravel.
This, it avowed, is because the pact has “not yet begun to transform the enmity between Iran and the US, leaving it exposed to an unstable political environment”.
It added: “Political infighting in Tehran and volatility in Washington deepen uncertainties.
“The most consequential political wild card remains the US Congress, where hostility towards Iran runs deep, and new sanctions are being considered.
“This is because of concerns over Iran’s regional resurgence and ballistic missile tests, but the accord could not have been negotiated successfully if those issues had been on the table,” the group stressed.
“Today they constitute the primary threat to its successful implementation.”
Iran insists that it is not developing nuclear weapons; therefore there can be no justification for pressing it to halt its ballistic programme.
Iran considers its growing missile arsenal — Western estimates put it at 200 weapons of various types — as its main strategic deterrence.
Some of its missiles are understood to be capable of reaching Israel, which on January 18th announced the deployment of its first batteries of Arrow-3 interceptor missiles, its first line of defence against ballistic weapons.