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Washington’s Move To Garner UN Condemnation Of Iranian Missile Test Highlights Ambiguity Of Issue

By Victor Cabrera | The Media Line

December 6, 2018

A demonstrator holds a mock-up of a nuclear missile with the lettering 'No nuke to the mullahs' , (Photo: JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Analysts argue that wording of Security Council resolution on Tehran’s ballistic missile program leaves too much room for interpretation

The United States this week accused Iran of testing a medium-range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads that can reach anywhere in the Middle East and parts of Europe. The move was strongly denounced by Western leaders and prompted Washington to pursue formal condemnation from the United Nations Security Council.

The U.S. argues that the missile test is a violation of UNSC resolution 2231, which was adopted in 2015 to replace of a previous motion as stipulated by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the Iran nuclear deal.

“The prior resolution [1929 which was approved five years earlier] prohibited Iran’s development of all missiles that could carry atomic warheads,” Dr. Emily Landau, Senior Research Fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, explained to The Media Line. “The current resolution only forbids the development of missiles designed ‘specifically’ for nuclear weapons delivery,” which Tehran maintains is impossible given its repeated denials that it is working to obtain atomic arms.

“This was very problematic at the time of the JCPOA’s negotiation,” Dr. Landau continued, “and now we are seeing that Iran’s government is using the ambiguity to its advantage.”

Forged during the Obama administration, the nuclear accord removed financial penalties on Iran in return for the curbing of its nuclear activities, foremost the enrichment of high-grade uranium. An international monitoring system also was introduced to verify Iranian compliance with the terms of the agreement.

However, President Donald Trump in May withdrew from the pact, which he described as the worst-ever deal, and has since re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s crucial energy, shipping and banking sectors.

The Trump administration has come up against heavy resistance from European powers party to the JCPOA, which have been working with Tehran to devise mechanisms by which to circumvent renewed American sanctions.

Emily Geranmayeh, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Media Line that “Iran views the missile program as a non-negotiable deterrence measure against their regional [Sunni] foes that are supported by the U.S. This rhetoric has played well with the Russians, which makes it unlikely that any [Security Council] resolution to condemn Tehran will pass.

“Washington’s move is therefore more of a political stunt,” she elaborated, “meant to emphasize concerns that Iran’s expanding the missile program only makes sense if it is intending to [produce] nuclear warheads in the future. And while European states seem to accept the Islamic Republic’s claim that it is legitimate to develop a homegrown missile capacity, they do not [condone] the way in which Tehran is spreading this research to other problematic regional actors [such as its Lebanese proxy Hizbullah].”

While Iran repeatedly has refused to renegotiate the JCPOA, Geranmayeh believes that the only way for progress to be made is for the U.S. to moderate its approach and “re-enter the deal as a full and committed partner so an environment is created that makes it easier for the regime to sell talks to a domestic political faction that is very against this.

“However, Iranian officials are confident that they can weather the storm,” she concluded, “and I think what they are committed to showing is that that their economy is resilient enough to outlast the Trump administration.”

Dr. Landau agrees that the American sanctions do not guarantee that Iran will alter its behavior but nevertheless suggests that the policy is “the best chance for turning things around. The Iranians have not become belligerent because of Trump, they have always been belligerent and are even more so after the JCPOA.”

(Victor Cabrera is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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