Weak Resolution, Approved by U.S., Makes Action Against Iran's Missile Activity Unlikely

By Patrick Goodenough | March 18, 2016 | 6:56 AM EDT

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power approved weak language in a U.N. Security Council resolution relating to Iran’s ballistic missile activity. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Eight months after allowing weak language in a U.N. Security Council resolution relating to Iran’s ballistic missile activity, the Obama administration now faces the likelihood that repeated missile launches by Tehran will bring no tougher response from the council than a reprimand.

A close observer of the U.N. criticized U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power on Thursday, suggesting she had been outmaneuvered by Russia, an ally of Iran, during the drafting of that resolution.

“Samantha Power was never able to compete with the Russians,” said Richard Grenell, who served as spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration.

“They owned her at every turn,” he said. “The British and French complained about her weakness and inabilities.”

“She spent time tweeting instead of negotiating,” Grenell said. “She traveled around giving speeches instead of rolling up her sleeves to be our representative. The fact she got hoodwinked by the Russians isn’t a surprise to anyone watching.”

Power expressed frustration early this week that her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, was “lawyering” and “quibbling” over the missile issue.

On July 20 last year Power joined the council’s other 14 members in unanimously supporting resolution 2231, whose language is now being cited by Iran, backed by Russia, in defending its right to carry out ballistic missile tests – at least four since July.

Resolution 2231, which enshrined the Iran nuclear deal and terminated the provisions of half a dozen earlier Iran nuclear resolutions passed over the past decade, included a clause (in an annex on page 99) stating that Iran was “called upon” not to carry out specified missile activity, including launches.

But an earlier resolution, resolution 1929 of 2010, stated unambiguously (paragraph 9) that Iran “shall not” undertake such activity. All of the provisions of resolution 1929 and six other earlier resolutions fell away on January 16, “implementation day” of the nuclear agreement.

Since Russia is a veto-wielding permanent Security Council member, it can block any new resolution containing punitive measures against Iran for the recent missile activity.

“A ‘call’ is different from a ban so, legally, you cannot violate a call,” Churkin said on Monday. “You can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call. The legal distinction is there.”

In a sign that the State Department now recognizes the position it is in, spokesman John Kirby this week altered his own language in relation to the Iranian launches, saying on Monday they were “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” resolution 2231. Five days earlier, by contrast, Kirby said if reports of the launches were true, the activity would be “a violation” of council resolutions.

(A related but separate dispute surrounds the question of whether the missiles launched by Iran are “designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead,” as per the resolution language; Iran disputes that they are.)

‘Why would we accept inferior language?’

Three days after the Security Council adopted resolution 2231 last July, Secretary of State John Kerry sparred with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) over the “shall not” versus “called upon” language in the resolutions.

“Why would we accept inferior language that changes the mandatory ‘shall [not]’ to a permissive ‘call upon’?” Menendez asked Kerry during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“We often ‘call upon’ a lot of countries to do or stop certain actions in the U.N., but it doesn’t have the force of ‘shall not’ which has consequences if you do.”

Kerry suggested Menendez was misreading the situation. He pointed to the fact that resolution 2231 also invokes article 25 of the U.N. Charter. (“The members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.”)

“The exact same language that is in the embargo is in the agreement with respect to [missile] launches, and that is under article 25 of the U.N. [Charter],” Kerry said. “And that is exactly where it is today in the language.”

Menendez, who was one of just four Senate Democrats who opposed the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, repeated his point.

“I’m reading you explicit language, I’m not making this up. ‘Iran is called upon not to undertake’ that activity.”

“Correct,” interjected Kerry. “That’s the article 25 which is exactly –”

“That’s far different than ‘shall not,’” Menendez continued.

“Senator, that’s exactly what it is today,” Kerry said. “That’s the same language which is in the embargo now. We transferred it to this, and that’s what it is.”

“Not the same language as Security Council resolution 1929,” Menendez asserted. “I mean, I don’t know why you just wouldn’t keep the same language – which made it clear that you ‘shall not,’ and because the ‘shall not’ exists, there are consequences if you do.”

Michael Makovsky, CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and a former Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration, wrote in the Weekly Standard on Thursday that the administration is “at pains to find a legal basis on which to condemn the [missile] launches and push for more international sanctions.”

“They should have thought of that before negotiating away all meaningful international legal restrictions on Iran’s conventional weapons programs as part of last summer’s nuclear deal,” he said.

Before the most recent launches, Kerry told senators last month that the administration would not support new congressional sanctions over Iran’s missile activity. He argued then that unilateral measures announced by the White House in January had served as “a warning.”

But on Thursday, Republican senators introduced two new Iran sanctions bills, one specifically targeting ballistic missile activity.

The Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act would impose new sanctions against persons who knowingly aid the missile program; against entities controlled or owned at least 25 percent by Iranian ballistic missile organizations; and against persons involved in sectors of the Iranian economy that support the missile program.

Sponsors, all Republicans, include Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), John Cornyn (Texas), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Jim Risch (Idaho), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow