The United States on Monday convened a UN Security Council meeting aimed at advancing sanctions against Iran over its recent ballistic missile tests that Washington considers to be in violation of a UN resolution.
Describing the missile launches as “dangerous, destabilizing and provocative,” US Ambassador Samantha Power noted that Iranian military officials had claimed that the missiles were designed to be a threat to Israel.
“These were designed to deliver a nuclear weapon,” said Power. “This merits a council response.”
Power though, was met with opposition from Russia and the EU, which both said they did not believe the last week’s missile tests were breaches of the landmark nuclear deal, which called for Iran to desist from developing missiles that can carry nuclear weapons.
Ahead of the meeting, Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon called on the council to take action, arguing that failure to do so “will give Iran a green light to continue with its nuclear missile tests.”
The meeting was called after Iran launched two mid-range ballistic missiles emblazoned with the words “Israel must be wiped off the map” in Hebrew and Persian on March 9. An Iranian commander boasted after the launch that the missiles had a range of 2,000 kilometers and could hit Israel.
The UN meeting concluded with no specific follow-up action other than further discussion on the test-launches within a designated Security Council committee on Iran.
“We did agree that it’s not a violation,” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, welcoming “a very satisfactory outcome of the discussion.”
Russia’s opposition as a veto-wielding member of the council effectively ruled out the possibility of UN sanctions against Iran.
During the closed-door meeting, Power accused Russia of “lawyering its way to look for reasons not to act rather than stepping up and being prepared to shoulder our collective responsibility.”
Tehran maintains that the latest missile tests, which took place last week, were not aimed at developing a nuclear capability.
Churkin noted that the term “called upon” in the new resolution was an important change in legal language from previous adopted texts that barred Iran from developing such technology.
“A call is different from a ban, so legally you can’t violate a call,” he said.
The new resolution “clearly raises the requirements of proof quite a bit” by stating that the missiles must be “designed” to have nuclear capability, Churkin added.
Later on Monday, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said the ballistic missile tests were not in violation of its nuclear deal and the European Union was not considering sanctions at this stage.
Power said last week’s launches defy provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls on Iran to refrain from developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Resolution 2231 endorsed the nuclear deal reached between Western powers and Tehran, and came into effect in January of this year.
“The technology they used is inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons and thus inherently defying Resolution 2231,” Powers said, vowing to continue pushing the Security Council to take action on the matter.
“We are not going to give up, no matter the quibbling that we heard today about this,” said Power, adding that “we also can consider, of course, our own appropriate national response.”
France had warned on Sunday that it risked new sanctions as a result of the tests, but Mogherini said that was a matter for the UN Security Council and not the European Union Foreign Affairs Council.
“This is indeed also in our view not a violation of the (nuclear deal) as such,” Mogherini said after meeting the foreign ministers of the 28 EU nations in Brussels.
Under the July accord, the lifting of the nuclear sanctions takes place progressively in line with Tehran meeting its commitments.
A key provision allows the sanctions to be restored or “snap-backed” immediately if Iran is found in breach of the agreement.
The United States slapped sanctions on Iran in January over its ballistic missile program, even as the world hailed the implementation of the historic nuclear deal.
Britain and France had both raised concern over the missile launches, but the ambassadors did not specifically say that the tests were a violation of Resolution 2231.
“We judge that Iran is in blatant disregard of Resolution 2231,” said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said that “we are worried, because we are in a case of non-compliance with 2231.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week urged Iran to act with caution and moderation, in response to the two days of missile launches.
Given the political atmosphere in the Middle East, Iran should “act with moderation, caution and the good sense not to increase tensions through any hasty actions,” Ban’s spokesman said.
Asked about the Israel threat earlier Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif lashed out at US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I ask you to go ask Netanyahu why is he threatening to use force against Iran every day. Go ask Obama why he is threatening to use force against Iran every day,” Zarif said. “Why are they saying all options are on the table?”
AFP contributed to this report