Published On: Wed, Dec 9th, 2015

U.S. Cautious on Iran Missile Test Claim

The Obama administration is facing another difficult choice with Iran: As Tehran takes apart much of its nuclear infrastructure to win sanctions relief, how vocally should the White House condemn Iranian violations of United Nations resolutions on other issues?

Based on the first responses Tuesday to reports that Iran had conducted yet another launch of a medium-range ballistic missile, the answer appears to be not very loudly.

Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said that Washington was “conducting a serious review of the reported incident.” She said that if the review determined that the test occurred, the United States would take the issue up with the Security Council.

American officials did announce some sanctions on Tuesday for ballistic missile tests — but they were against North Korea, for violating Security Council resolutions by launching short- and medium-range missiles in tests last year.

Before the Iran nuclear accord, the White House regularly condemned Tehran’s tests. But now, officials say privately, they believe that the tests may be the work of angry elements in Iran’s military who hope to derail the nuclear accord and preserve their atomic infrastructure.

“We’re seeing a lot of infighting within Iran now,” one senior American official said.

Outside analysts seemed to have little doubt about what the Iranians launched on Nov. 21: a Ghadr-110, a version of the country’s Shahab-3 missile. That missile figured in the nuclear negotiations, because of evidence that Iran had conducted studies about how to shrink a nuclear device to fit into the Shahab’s nose cone.

The November test, if confirmed, would be a clear violation of Security Council Resolution 1929, which remains in force until the nuclear accord goes into effect — probably in January. After that, a new Security Council resolution will take effect, in which Iran is “called upon” to stop work for eight years on any ballistic missiles that could deliver a nuclear weapon. But the test would not violate the nuclear accord itself.

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