- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Lawmakers in both parties demanded the Obama administration hold Iran accountable Tuesday for a series of new ballistic missile tests in apparent violation of a U.N. resolution, while Iran threatened to back out of its nuclear accord with the U.S. and other world powers if the West imposes fresh sanctions.

Critics say the missile tests, while not a direct violation of the nuclear pact, make a mockery of President Obama’s argument that dealing directly with Tehran would help moderate the Islamic republic’s aggressive policies elsewhere in the region.

“While international sanctions against Iran are being lifted, Iran fired ballistic missiles in violation of international resolutions yet again,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican. “Time and again, Iran has violated international agreements only to have the Obama administration bat its eyes and look the other way.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which sees itself as a hard-line defender of the 1979 revolution, conducted multiple ballistic missile tests Tuesday in what officials said was a display of “deterrent power,” defying U.S. sanctions imposed earlier this year aimed at disrupting the missile program.

State media announced that short-, medium- and long-range precision guided missiles were fired from several sites to show the country’s “all-out readiness to confront threats” against its territorial integrity. State television showed a missile being fired from a fortified underground silo at nighttime.

While the country has made some moves to dismantle parts of its once-secret nuclear operations, Iranian leaders insist that they will walk away from the nuclear deal — which also provides tens of billions of dollars in relief from biting economic and financial sanctions — if the U.S. and other global powers fail to advance the Islamic Republic’s “national interests.”

Brigadier Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s aerospace arm, said sanctions would not stop Iran developing its ballistic missiles, which it regards as a cornerstone of its conventional deterrent.

“Our main enemies are imposing new sanctions on Iran to weaken our missile capabilities. … But they should know that the children of the Iranian nation in the Revolutionary Guards and other armed forces refuse to bow to their excessive demands,” the IRGC’s website quoted Gen. Hajizadeh as saying.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, said if Iran’s interests are not met under the nuclear deal, “there will be no reason for us to continue.”

“If other parties decide, they could easily violate the deal,” Mr. Araqchi told Iran’s state-controlled media. “However, they know this will come with costs.”

Mr. Araqchi appeared to be referring to the possibility of the U.S. imposing new economic sanctions as a result of the missile test. The Obama administration hit Iran with fresh sanctions in January after missile tests, 24 hours after separate sanctions related to Tehran’s nuclear activities had been lifted under the landmark deal with the U.S. and its partners — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

Pictures of the new launches were broadcast and reports said the armaments used had ranges of 190 miles, 300 miles, 480 miles and 1,200 miles.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the missile testing “is not a violation of the nuclear agreement” with the U.S., although he said the testing may have violated a U.N. Security Council Resolution.

“We’re still reviewing the launch … to determine what the appropriate response is,” Mr. Earnest said.

Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, Iran is prohibited from testing ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

Exploiting loopholes

Blaise Misztal, national security director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said whether the Qiam-1 missile tested Tuesday qualifies as “nuclear-capable” is “a semantic issue that Iran’s lawyers will argue vehemently about, demonstrating Iran’s strategy of finding and exploiting loopholes in international agreements.”

“Iran’s test of the Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile is problematic not only because of its potential violation of international sanctions, but also for what it signals about Iran’s regional ambitions,” Mr. Misztal said. The largely Shiite Muslim Iran is locked in a regional battle for influence against Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

He said Iran had not conducted any development work on the missile since 2010, and the range of about 420 miles “makes the Qiam-1 an effective tool for threatening [the] U.S. and allied forces in the Persian Gulf as well as the military and energy infrastructure of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.”

“This test is surely intended by Tehran as saber-rattling in its escalating confrontation with Riyadh and, therefore, a signal of its continued determination to destabilize the region,” he said.

Just two weeks ago, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told Congress that a new Iranian missile could lead the White House to impose fresh sanctions against Tehran.

“We’ve already let them know how disappointed we are,” Mr. Kerry told lawmakers, citing Iranian missile tests carried out in October and November — shortly after reaching last summer’s historic nuclear deal.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that Washington would review the incident and, if it is confirmed, raise it in the U.N. Security Council and press for an “appropriate response.”

“We also continue to aggressively apply our unilateral tools to counter threats from Iran’s missile program,” Mr. Toner added, in a possible reference to additional sanctions.

Deep divisions also exist within Iran between hard-liners who opposed the nuclear negotiations and more moderate elements close to President Hassan Rouhani, who argued a deal would ease Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation and free up billions of dollars for the government. The nuclear deal got a boost last month when Mr. Rouhani and his allies scored well in elections to parliament and other key governmental bodies.

Still, U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday pressed for a more robust response from the administration over the provocative new missile tests.

“The administration’s response to Iran’s new salvo of threatening missile tests in violation of international law cannot once again be, [Iran is] ‘not supposed to be doing that,’” Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, said in a statement. “Now is the time for new crippling sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ministry of Defense, Aerospace Industries Organization, and other related entities driving the Iranian ballistic missile program.”

Cardin critical

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and one of three Senate Democrats to oppose Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal, said he was “deeply concerned by Iran’s repetitive disregard of and indifference” to U.N. resolutions barring missile tests.

“The administration should act swiftly to raise these concerns at the United Nations and take action to hold all parties involved responsible for their actions, including, if necessary, through unilateral action,” Mr. Cardin said.

Mr. McCarthy said the administration’s nuclear deal with Tehran “is enabling Iran’s aggression and terrorist activities.”

“Sanctions relief is fueling Iran’s proxies from Yemen to Iraq to Syria to Lebanon,” he said. “Meanwhile, [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and the Iranian regime are acting with impunity because they know President Obama will not hold them accountable and risk the public destruction of his nuclear deal, the cornerstone of the president’s foreign policy legacy.”

“The president must hold Iran accountable in a meaningful way for its violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said.

The nuclear accord appears to be holding, but even here, Russia and the U.S. are divided on how well the U.N. atomic agency is reporting on whether Tehran is meeting its commitments. Western nations want more details while Moscow opposes their push.

Because the U.S. and its five negotiating partners want to avoid conflicts that could complicate Iranian compliance with a deal that was years in the making, their differences are mostly playing out behind the scenes.

Vladimir Voronkov, Moscow’s chief delegate to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which is monitoring the deal, acknowledges there is a dispute that could affect the amount of information made public about Iran’s nuclear program in the future.

“In our view, it’s an absolutely balanced document,” Mr. Voronkov said ahead of a discussion of the latest IAEA report on Iran by the agency’s 35-nation board rescheduled to Wednesday from Tuesday. “But some of our colleagues would like to have more details.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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