Kerry opposed new congressional sanctions over Iranian missile launches

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( – After Iran reported carrying out new ballistic missile tests Tuesday – and underlined that Israel is within range – State Department spokesman John Kirby said if the reports were confirmed, the U.S. would consider using “unilateral and multilateral tools” in response to Iran’s behavior.

“We have and we will use unilateral and multilateral tools to address this. If these latest reports are true, we’ll take them up appropriately,” he told reporters. “We’re not going to shy away from confronting Iran over this particular development of this particular technology.”

But the U.N. Security Council has yet to respond to two previous Iranian missile tests, on Oct. 10 and Nov. 21 last year, despite the fact that the launches violated a resolution which the council passed unanimously last July – the same resolution (#2231) that enshrined the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

As far as unilateral tools go, sanctions imposed by the White House in January against Iranian individuals and companies linked to the missile program have proved to be no deterrent. They were dismissed earlier by Republican lawmakers as inadequate.

“What you put on, I consider almost nothing,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Secretary of State John Kerry during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing last month, in reference to the January sanctions. “I have a list [of sanctions targets] a mile long,” he added.

Kerry told that hearing the administration would not support new congressional sanctions against Iran over the missile launches, characterizing the sanctions which the administration had imposed in January as a warning to Tehran.

“I wouldn’t welcome them [new congressional measures] at this moment in time, given the fact that we’ve given them a warning,” he said. “If they decide to do another launch then I think there’s a rationale.”

On Tuesday, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reported doing just that – carrying out several launches of missiles, including a medium-range Qiam-1 missile which the IRGC claimed hit a target 700 kilometers (435 miles) from the launch silo.

The Fars news agency quoted IRGC aerospace force commander Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying that over several days it had fired various types of missiles in desert areas west of Tehran and elsewhere in the country, with ranges ranging from 300 to 2,000 kilometers (187-1,243 miles).

IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, observing the missile exercises, said they would “teach the enemies that Iran’s defensive might and the country’s security is regarded as our red line and under no circumstances will be negotiable.”

He stressed that Israel was within reach of Iran’s missiles, adding that it was natural that the “Zionists” should be “more fearful.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) called Tuesday for “immediate consequences” for Iran, both from the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council.

“The administration’s hesitancy and the council’s refusal to act after multiple violations last fall must not be repeated now that Iran appears ready to test the will of the international community with the nuclear agreement in place,” he said.

“A failure to hold them accountable now, including suppliers and enablers of their ballistic missile program, would undermine our efforts to contain Iran’s destabilizing behavior and raise serious questions about the ability to enforce violations of the nuclear deal itself.”

Launches violate UN resolution, not nuclear deal

At the State Department briefing, Kirby said the launches, if confirmed, would violate U.N. resolution 2231 – but not the JCPOA which that same resolution was created to endorse.

“In UNSC resolution 2231, Iran is called upon not to undertake ballistic missile activity, including test launches with ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead,” he said.

“It is inconsistent with 2231; it’s not a violation of the Iran deal itself.”

“So they’re violating the resolution that has the nuclear deal in it,” a reporter pointed out. “Surely you can see how people might read that as a violation of the whole thing, which includes the nuclear deal, no?”

“I can understand why some people might read it that way, but they’d be incorrect,” Kirby said, then repeated, “It is not a violation of the Iran deal itself.”

The U.S. and other Western negotiators acceded to the Iranians’ demands – backed by Russia and China – that Iran’s missiles be off the table in the nuclear talks.

Since concluding the JCPOA last summer Iranian leaders have said repeatedly that missile launches do not contravene resolution 2231, since the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

However, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month wrote that “Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.”

In verbal testimony before the panel, Clapper described the launches last fall as “a deliberate message of defiance.”

He said Iran has conducted around 140 missile launches since the U.N. Security Council passed an earlier resolution prohibiting such activity, in 2010.

Appearing alongside Clapper at the Armed Services Committee hearing, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieut. Gen. Vincent Stewart said he expected to see Iran in the next several years use some of the money it obtains from sanctions relief to enhance conventional military capabilities, including missiles.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is receiving around $100 billion in unfrozen assets, and as a result of sanctions relief will over time reap significantly greater economic benefits.

— Written by Patrick Goodenough