State Dep’t Scorns Iran’s Claim That Missile Tests Are Defensive

By Patrick Goodenough | December 4, 2018 | 4:29 AM EST

A photo of an Iranian missile launch, posted on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps website (Photo: Sepahnews)

( – The State Department on Monday urged the European Union to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions in response to Iran’s ballistic missile program, rejecting the regime’s claims that its launches are “defensive.”

After the U.S. accused the Iranians of launching at the weekend missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads including a nuclear weapon, Iran special representative Brian Hook rejected Tehran’s insistence that the program is purely defensive.

“How exactly is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism entitled to a claim of defense?” he said to reporters accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

Any security concerns Iran has were of its own making, he said.

“Was a plot to bomb Paris defensive? Was the assassination attempt in Denmark defensive?” Hook asked, referencing two foiled terror attacks on European soil this year. “Is smuggling missiles to the Houthis in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia and the Emirates defensive?”

On Saturday, Pompeo issued a statement saying the medium-range ballistic missile test-fired by Iran shortly beforehand “has a range that allows it to strike parts of Europe and anywhere in the Middle East.”

He charged that the launch violated U.N. Security Council resolution 2231 – the 2015 text that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal – which, he said, “bans Iran from undertaking ‘any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.’”

But the regime quickly rejected the criticism and the violation claim, saying the program was solely meant for defense.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi disputed the claim that the launch breached resolution 2231, saying that no U.N. resolutions bars Iran from developing its missile program.

The regime has a point: When negotiating the JCPOA the Obama administration and its partners in Britain, France and Germany acceded to the Iranians’ demands, which were backed by Russia and China, that Iran’s missiles be kept off the table.

Flowing from that concession, the administration also allowed resolution 2231 – again at Iran’s insistence – to include non-binding language relating to missiles.

Whereas earlier resolutions had said Iran “shall not” develop or test-fire ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, in resolution 2231 – which replaced those earlier texts – the language was watered down, and Iran was merely “called upon” not to undertake such activity.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later boasted to Iran’s parliament that he had spent months painstakingly negotiating that wording, and characterized the end result as a victory over then-Secretary of State John Kerry and other JCPOA negotiating partners.

Tehran argues both that the language (“called upon” rather than “shall not”) is non-binding, and also that Iran’s ballistic missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons in any case.

When the U.S. in 2016 tried to respond to Iranian missile launches, it ran into trouble arising from that weakened language.

A Russian diplomat at the U.N. pointed out that, “A ‘call’ is different from a ban so, legally, you cannot violate a call. You can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call. The legal distinction is there.”


In his remarks to reporters Monday Hook criticized the previous administration for leaving missiles out of the JCPOA negotiations.

“Iran’s continued testing and proliferation of ballistic missiles shows that the Iran [nuclear] deal has not moderated the Iranian regime as some had hoped,” he said. “It was a mistake to exclude missiles from the Iran nuclear deal, and it is one of the principal reasons that the United States left it [last May].”

Hook said the U.S. is calling on its European allies to impose sanctions on Iran over the missile activity.

“The United States has imposed sanctions on a number of individuals and entities who are supporting Iran’s missile program,” he said. “We think those sanctions can be effective if more nations can also join us in that effort.”

Although the U.S. is at odds with the E.U. over its decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, Hook said the allies were on the same page when it comes to the missile activity, which the Europeans too view as “a threat to peace and security.”

“The Europeans understand that fully and I believe that we are making progress toward getting a proposal tabled in Brussels that would designate the individuals and the entities that are facilitating Iran’s missile program,” he said. “It is a grave and escalating threat.”

Iranian armed forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi said Iran would continue to develop and test-fire ballistic missiles, and seek no other countries’ permission to do so, the Mehr news agency reported.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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