Iran ballistic missiles launched in exercise may violate U.N.-set range limits

AP

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched several medium-range and short-range ballistic missiles in recent days as part of a military exercise, the Guard announced Tuesday.

The missiles had ranges of between 300 and 2,000 km (185-1,250 miles), Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Guard’s aerospace division, said, according to the state news agency IRNA.

The longer ends of that range appear to exceed limits that the U.N. Security Council has imposed in connection to resolutions banning Iran from developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran says none of its missiles is designed to carry nuclear weapons.

Obama administration spokesmen said it was aware of reports of the launch but could not confirm. They said that if the launches did occur, they would seek redress at the U.N. national security council.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, asked whether the secretary-general condemned the latest missile launches, said the U.N. was looking into the reports and it was up to the Security Council to determine whether there were any violation. “It’s important that Iran live up to its obligations under the (nuclear) deal,” he said.

The U.N. experts panel said last year that a missile with a range of at least 300 km (186 miles) and a payload of at least 500 kg (1,102 pounds) is considered by expert guidelines to be capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction

The Revolutionary Guard website said the missiles launched during the exercises included the midrange Shahab-1 and -2, and the multiple warhead Qiam, with a range of 800 km, and the liquid-fueled Qadr F, which reportedly has a range of nearly 2,000 km. It did not give the rockets’ payload capacity.

The missiles have been in service in the Guard over the past years.

IRNA said the missiles, launched from silos in several locations across the country, demonstrated Iran’s “deterrence power” and its readiness to confront threats. State TV ran what it said was video footage of the operation, showing missiles in underground silos and flashes of light from nighttime launches.

“Israel is afraid of the missile launch since it is in range of most of our missiles. Naturally, whoever has hostility towards Iran is in fear,” said the Guard chief, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, according to the Guard’s website. “Our enemies have learned that increasing sanctions and security pressures have no (negative) impact on boosting of our capabilities.”

State media said the exercise was in its final phase on Tuesday.

In October, Iran successfully test-fired a new guided long-range ballistic surface-to-surface missile. It was the first such test since Iran and world powers reached a landmark nuclear deal last summer.

U.N. experts said the launch used ballistic missile technology banned under a Security Council resolution. In January, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the ballistic missile program.

Since 1992, Iran has emphasized a self-sufficient and indigenous military production industry, producing missiles, tanks and light submarines. The government frequently announces military advances which cannot independently verified.

Russia and the West overcame differences to strike a landmark nuclear deal with Iran but are now divided on how well the U.N. atomic agency is reporting on whether Tehran is meeting its commitments. Western nations want more details while Moscow opposes their push.

Because the U.S. and its five negotiating partners want to avoid conflicts that could complicate Iranian compliance of a deal that was years in the making, their differences are mostly playing out behind the scenes.

Vladimir Voronkov, Moscow’s chief delegate to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which is monitoring the deal, acknowledges there is a dispute that could affect the amount of information made public about Iran’s nuclear program in the future.

“In our view it’s an absolutely balanced document,” Voronkov said ahead of a discussion of the latest IAEA report on Iran by the agency’s 35-nation board scheduled for Tuesday. “But some of our colleagues would like to have more details.”

The United States, Britain, France and Germany negotiated the deal with Iran along with Russia and China, and all six countries will continue to have much deeper insight into whether Iran is upholding its side of the agreement than what the IAEA reports to other nations on its board.

But Voronkov told The Associated Press that diplomats from some of those Western countries believe the Feb. 26 IAEA report was too superficial to provide the broader view they feel is needed to show Iran that the world was watching.

China shares the Russian view. Iran complains that the report is too detailed, leaving IAEA chief Yukiya Amano caught in the middle.

He feels he has struck the right balance, considering Iran is no longer in violation of U.N. and agency demands to curb its nuclear program and opposes pressure from member countries.

His February report was much less detailed than pre-nuclear deal summaries of Iran’s atomic activities. It was restricted essentially to ticking off the major obligations that Iran agreed to when the deal took hold Jan. 16 and stating that most were met or minor deviations quickly remedied.

Asked about the new IAEA approach, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday: “I’m not aware of reporting requirements that changed.”

Voronkov didn’t specify which Western countries he meant, but another diplomat from one of the six nations that negotiated the nuclear deal said the U.S. was among those preferring more details than the report contained.

In Washington, a State Department official played down the issue saying the U.S. believes that the report “provided the right amount of information, though of course future reports will need to be responsive to the IAEA’s actual findings.”

Both the official and the diplomat demanded anonymity in exchange for commenting on the confidential IAEA report.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to restrict the number of centrifuges used to make enriched uranium, material that can power reactors or be used for the core of a nuclear weapon, depending on its level of enrichment. It also pledged to crimp work on advanced centrifuges and get rid of most of its enriched uranium stockpile.

Critics say that the report falls short on particulars on these issues.

“The report does not list inventories of nuclear materials and equipment or the status of key sites and facilities,” says former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen. “Without detailed reporting, the international community cannot be sure that Iran is upholding its commitments under the nuclear deal.”

Amano pushed back Tuesday, telling AP his reporting on Iran will continue to be “factual, impartial and include the information which the agency considers necessary.”

But two diplomats from EU nations said an EU statement will allude to concerns of underreporting in some of the same language used by Amano, urging the IAEA to provide “the necessary information” on Iran’s nuclear activities in its next quarterly report.

They demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment on the statement before it was delivered.