Pompeo on Tehran rockets: US ‘won’t stand by’ as Iran threatens global security
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Pompeo on Tehran rockets: US ‘won’t stand by’ as Iran threatens global security

Secretary of state says Tehran plans to test three space launch vehicles with technology ‘virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles’

In this file photo taken on December 13, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)
In this file photo taken on December 13, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran on Thursday that its planned launch of three rockets as part of its space program constituted “defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231,” a July 2015 endorsement by the Security Council of the Iran nuclear deal.

The three space launch vehicles, Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department, “incorporate technology that is virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles, including in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

“An ICBM with a range of 10,000km could reach the United States.”

Pompeo warned the US “will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk.”

He raised the specter of further sanctions, saying, “We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later responded that Iran’s actions were “NOT in violation of Res 2231. The US is in material breach of same, & as such it is in no position to lecture anyone on it.”

Resolution 2231 does not expressly forbid Iran from developing ballistic missiles, but it says Tehran 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.”

According to Pompeo, Iran’s Ministry of Defense “has publicly announced plans to launch” the three new missiles “in the coming months,” which would “once again demonstrate Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231.”

The US, together with allies Britain, France, and Germany, has repeatedly accused Iran of defying the resolution with its missile tests.

One such charge was leveled in March 2016, just months after the nuclear deal’s approval.

On December 1, 2018 Pompeo said in his statement, “the Iranian regime test-fired a medium range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads, and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force later said that Iran tests 40 to 50 ballistic missiles every year.”

Such tests, the US said, “have a destabilizing effect on the region and beyond. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and many nations from around the world have also expressed deep concern.”

In this photo provided November 5, 2018, by the Iranian Army, a Sayyad 2 missile is fired by the Talash air defense system during drills in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)

Pompeo’s statement comes a day after US President Donald Trump said Iranian forces in Syria “can do what they want there, frankly,” and suggested Tehran was removing its troops from the country.

Trump’s statement came two weeks after he rattled Jerusalem as well as America’s Syrian Kurdish allies by announcing that he would pull all 2,000 US troops out of Syria. US soldiers have been leading the coalition against the Islamic State terror group, while also helping to thwart the establishment of permanent Iranian military infrastructure in Syria.

Israeli officials have warned that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the security cabinet, sought to downplay Trump’s actions and comments, saying Thursday, “I don’t understand why they’re trying to recycle this drama time and again.”

While Israel may have preferred that US troops remain in Syria, the American president had the prerogative to withdraw them whenever he saw fit, he said.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, January 2, 2019, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump’s decision on Syria does not alter his commitment to Israel’s security, the senior minister insisted. “We never relied on US troops in Syria. All together we’re talking about 2,000 troops and our policy to prevent Iran’s entrancement in Syria is based exclusively on the IDF and the government’s policy and not on the US presence,” he said.

“There is no substantive change in the way Israel plans to confront Iran’s entrenchment in Syria,” Erdan concluded.

But speaking anonymously, a senior Israeli official on Thursday criticized Trump for appearing to give Iran free rein to further embed itself in Syria.

“It is sad that he is not attentive to intelligence materials,” the unnamed Israeli official told the Ynet news website.

“I am quite simply in shock,” the source said of Trump’s insistence that Iran was withdrawing from Syria. “Trump simply does not know what is happening in Syria and the Iranian entrenchment there.”

Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and Russia to protect the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

This Tuesday, March 7, 2017, frame grab from video shows US forces patrol on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij, a flashpoint between Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters and US-backed Kurdish fighters, in al-Asaliyah village, Aleppo province, Syria. (Arab 24 network, via AP, File)

Over the last several years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran.

Yet Trump, on Wednesday, said at a cabinet meeting that Tehran, like the US, was withdrawing its forces from Syria.

The American president went on to say that in pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year, Washington had changed Tehran’s calculus and stymied its efforts to destabilize the region.

“Iran is no longer the same country,” he said. “Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.”

Trump’s decision to pull America’s 2,000 troops out from Syria caused a major shakeup within his own administration; his secretary of defense, James Mattis, resigned over the withdrawal.

Trump offered a stark take on the situation in Syria Wednesday, summing it up in two words — “sand and death” — while remaining vague about the timing of the US troop withdrawal.

A Ghadr-F missile is displayed next to a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a Revolutionary Guard hardware exhibition marking the 36th anniversary of outset of Iran-Iraq war, at Baharestan Sq. in downtown Tehran, Iran, on Sunday, September 25, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

“So Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago. And besides that, I don’t want — we’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about,” Trump said during a cabinet meeting. “We’re not talking about vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death.”

On when US forces would leave Syria, Trump said: “I don’t want to be in Syria forever.”

He added: “I never said we are getting out overnight… We’re withdrawing… over a period of time.”

The US president’s announcement of the Syrian withdrawal was the first significant point of contention between Washington and Jerusalem since he took office. Netanyahu reportedly pleaded with him to rethink the decision.

On Tuesday, Pompeo told Netanyahu that the planned withdrawal of US ground forces from Syria will not alter America’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.

“The decision by the president on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu before they held talks in Brazil.

Trump said last week that he did not think America removing its troops from Syria would endanger Israel.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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