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Washington, EU allies demand Iran halt ballistic activity

Western nations call on Tehran to stop ‘provocative’ ballistic missile activity after test of satellite rocket

Illustrative: An Iranian Hormoz ballistic missile.
 (Screenshot/YouTube)
Illustrative: An Iranian Hormoz ballistic missile. (Screenshot/YouTube)

The United States and three of its European allies urged Iran to halt all ballistic missile activity after Tehran tested a satellite-launch rocket in what Washington denounced as a “provocative” act.

“We condemn this action,” read a joint statement by Britain, France, Germany and the United States, saying Thursday’s test was in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.

“Iran’s program to develop ballistic missiles continues to be inconsistent with UNSCR 2231 and has a destabilizing impact in the region. We call on Iran not to conduct any further ballistic missile launches and related activities.”

Resolution 2231 was voted at the UN two years ago to endorse the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

It lifted economic sanctions in exchange for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear program.

The resolution called on Iran not to test ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and an arms embargo remained in place.

All four Western countries have written to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about their “concerns,” according to the joint statement.

It said the British, French and German governments are discussing the issues in bilateral talks with Iran.

At UN headquarters in New York, US envoy Nikki Haley spoke of deep “mistrust” with Iran.

“Iran’s widespread support for terrorists tells us we can’t trust them. Iran’s breaking its obligation on missile testing tells us we can’t trust them. Yesterday’s launch proves that yet again,” she said in a statement.

On Friday the US punished Iran for it launch this week of the satellite-carrying rocket into space by hitting six Iranian entities with sanctions targeting the country’s ballistic missiles program.

The sanctions hit six Iranian subsidiaries of the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, described by the Treasury Department as “central” to Iran’s ballistic missiles program. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cast the sanctions as part of an ongoing US effort to aggressively oppose Iran’s ballistic missile activity, including what he called a “provocative space launch” carried out by the Islamic Republic on Thursday.

“These sanctions target key entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and underscore the United States’ deep concerns with Iran’s continued development and testing of ballistic missiles and other provocative behavior,” Mnuchin said.

In another allegation against the US adversary, Mnuchin said that missile attacks on US partner Saudi Arabia over the weekend by Houthi rebels in Yemen had likely come with the support of Iran. The US has long accused Tehran of shipping weapons to the Houthis, a Shiite group that controls part of Yemen and is being fought by a Saudi-led coalition.

The sanctions come a day after Iran successfully launched its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket into space, in what was likely a major advancement for the country’s program. The “Simorgh” rocket is capable of carrying a satellite weighing 550 pounds (250 kilograms), Iran state television said.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes questions after announcing sanctions against Syria during a briefing at the White House on April 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes questions after announcing sanctions against Syria during a briefing at the White House on April 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Despite the fact it carried a satellite into space, the US has argued the launch was tantamount to a ballistic missile launch because that type of long-range missile technology is inherently designed to be able to carry a nuclear payload. To that end, the State Department has said the launch violated the spirit of the nuclear deal and also flouted a UN Security Council resolution that calls on Iran not to conduct such tests.

Yet Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif said Friday his country is complying with the nuclear deal that Iran struck with the US and other world powers in 2015. Zarif contrasted that with the US, which he suggested was not complying with “the letter and spirit” of the deal.

“Rhetoric and actions from the US show bad faith,” Zarif said.

He also rejected the notion that Iran was working to develop missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead.

“Iran is not and will not be developing nuclear weapons; so by definition cannot develop anything designed to be capable of delivering them,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

The penalties reflect an attempt by President Donald Trump’s administration to show it’s staying tough on Iran even though Trump has yet to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal, despite threatening to do so as a candidate and arguing it’s a bad deal.

Under Trump, like under President Barack Obama, the US has continued to sanction Iran for nonnuclear behavior such as ballistic missile activity that isn’t explicitly covered under the nuclear deal. Trump’s administration has also been pushing for inspections of sensitive Iranian military sites where US intelligence agencies believe Iran may be conducting illicit activity prohibited by the nuclear pact.

The six entities being sanctioned contribute to Iran’s liquid propellant ballistic missiles, the Treasury Department said, including development and manufacturing of engines, launchers, guide-and-control systems and ground support as well as the liquid propellant itself. The sanctions freeze any assets the entities may have in the US and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

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