Iran responds to threat of sanctions by promising to expand missile tests
News that the Obama administration is backing off its plan to impose sanctions on Iran for their violation of UN resolutions on their missile program apparently did nothing to assuage Tehran's anger. Several Iranian officials promised to expand their missile test program, defying the US and the UN while threatening Israel.
"As long as the United States supports Israel we will expand our missile capabilities," the Revolutionary Guards' second-in-command, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.
"We don't have enough space to store our missiles. All our depots and underground facilities are full," he said in Friday Prayers in Tehran.
Defence Minister Hossein Dehqan said Iran would boost its missile program and had never agreed to restrictions on it.
"Iran's missile capabilities have never been the subject of negotiations with the Americans and will never be," he was quoted as saying by Press TV, an Iranian state channel.
The defiant comments are a challenge for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama as the United States and European Union plan to dismantle nearly all international sanctions against Iran under the breakthrough nuclear agreement reached in July.
Iran has abided by the main terms of the nuclear deal, which require it to give up material that world powers feared could be used to make an atomic weapon and accept other restrictions on its nuclear program.
But Tehran also test-fired a missile in October, which the United States says would be capable of carrying a nuclear payload and therefore violates a 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution which is still in place.
Iran does not accept that the U.N. resolution bars it from testing missiles, as long as it has no nuclear weapons to place on them.
The standoff has turned into a diplomatic and political test for both Washington and Tehran, even as the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear deal draws closer.
Early in the new year, the United States and European Union are expected to unfreeze billions of dollars of Iranian assets, allow Iranian firms access to the international financial system and end bans that have crippled Iran's oil exports.
The ban on missile testing included any missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. But here's the kicker: Once the nuclear deal goes into affect, the UN resolutions will be withdrawn:
Ballistic missile tests by Iran are banned under Security Council resolution 1929, which was adopted in 2010 and remains valid until a nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers goes into effect. Under that deal, reached on July 14, most sanctions on Iran will be lifted in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
The missile test is not a violation of the nuclear deal, which focuses on Iran's atomic program, U.S. officials have said. Speaking to reporters in Washington, President Barack Obama acknowledged that the nuclear deal does not fully resolve all areas of dispute with Tehran.
"So we are going to have to continue to put pressure on them through the international community," he said.
Once the deal takes effect, Iran will still be "called upon" to refrain from undertaking any work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for a period of up to eight years, according to a Security Council resolution adopted in July.
Countries would be allowed to transfer missile technology and heavy weapons to Iran on a case-by-case basis with council approval.
However, in July a U.S. official called this provision meaningless and said the United States would veto any suggested transfer of ballistic missile technology to Iran.
Presumably, once the deal is implemented and restrictions on Iran's missile testing are lifted, the sanctions that the president is delaying will be removed anyway.
Even if they aren't, they are a drop in the bucket compared to the more than $100 billion in sanctions relief Tehran is going to get probably later this month. So Iran can afford to bluster and dare the US to sanction them. In the end, Iran will have its missiles, its money, and more than likely, its nukes.