Congress Urges Action on Iran Missile Tests

January 15, 2016
U.S. lawmakers have urged President Obama to take action regarding alleged Iranian ballistic missile launches in October and November 2015. On Jan. 16, 2016, Senator David Purdue (R-GA) and 12 other Republicans requested a roadmap of what he considers illicit behavior by Iran and what punitive steps will be taken in the event of such behavior. “Condemnations of Iran's blatant disregard for its international obligations are not enough,” wrote Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and 35 other Republican senators in December 2015. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) organized a similar letter signed by 20 other Democrats. A 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution prohibits Iran from testing ballistic missiles.
 
In October 2015, Britain, France and the United States called on the U.N. Security Council to investigate Iran’s test launch of a medium-range Emad ballistic missile they said was “inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.” U.N. sanctions monitors concluded in a confidential report seen by Reuters on Dec. 15, 2015 that the missile was indeed capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, a violation of Security Council resolution 1929. Iranian Mohammad Javad Zarif, however, told The New Yorker that the missiles are not designed “to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads and, therefore, it is within our right to self-defense.”
 
Iran also reportedly tested a medium-range Ghadr-110 missile near the port city of Chabahar on Nov. 21, 2015, according to a Western diplomatic source. The missile is a spinoff of the Shahab-3, which is based on a North Korean missile. Tehran began flight tests of the Ghadr in 2004. Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic arsenal in the Middle East, mostly acquired from foreign sources.
 
In late December 2015, U.S. media reports citing Obama administration officials said that the White House was delaying new financial sanctions on Iran for its missile program. Iranian officials in turn reiterated previous warnings warned that the supreme leader would view new sanctions as a violation of the nuclear deal. On Oct. 21, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had penned a letter to President Hassan Rouhani saying that “any imposition of sanctions at any level and under any pretext on the part of any of the countries involved in the negotiations will constitute a violation.”
 
U.S. officials denied that Iran’s defiance played a part in the delay. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the administration has “additional work that needs to be done” before finalizing the sanctions, but emphasized that “this is not something that we would negotiate with the Iranian government.”
 
On Jan. 5, 2016, Iran revealed a new underground missile base containing Emad missiles. The footage was released five days after President Hassan Rouhani called for accelerating Iran’s missile capability, in response reports that the U.S. Treasury was preparing to expand sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program. Rouhani denounced the potential sanctions as “illegitimate and illegal meddling in the Islamic Republic of Iran's right to reinvigorate its defense power.”
 
Dozens of members of Congress have issued statements and written letters urging President Obama to hold Iran accountable for the missile launches and other illicit behavior in recent months. The following are letters and statements by lawmakers. 

13 Republican Senators
 
Dear President Obama,
 
We write to express our continued concern regarding Iran’s tests of the Emad and Ghadr-110 ballistic missiles on October 10 and November 21 of 2015, respectively. We are concerned that Iran’s belligerent actions have thus far gone unpunished. As members of this body have warned before, a failure to enforce the rules is an invitation for further Iranian transgressions.
 
On December 17, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador
Stephen Mull confirmed that both of Iran’s ballistic missile tests violated multiple United
Nations Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1929 and continued in Resolution
2231, which followed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We were encouraged to see a notification on December 30 that your administration was preparing to sanction 11 companies and individuals for their role in helping Iran’s missile developers illegally procure key items from foreign suppliers. However, we were troubled to see your administration indefinitely delay these sanctions hours later.
 
We are concerned that, despite assurances from the State Department, the sanctions delay was a reaction to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s move to accelerate Iran’s missile program as well as Tehran’s repeated threats to withdraw from the agreement if any new sanctions are imposed.
 
Yet last year, you and your administration repeatedly assured Congress that our nation would retain the ability to punish Iran for its aggressive and illicit behavior-ranging from support of terrorism to human rights abuses to missile activity-and that this toolkit would include the use of sanctions. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 23, 2015, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew told us, “[w]e have also made clear we reserve the right to put additional sanctions in place to address concerns about terrorism [and] human rights.”
 
These ballistic missile tests come in the wake of mounting Iranian aggression both domestically and in the region. Since the signing of the JCPOA in July, Iran has fired rockets near U.S. warships; fomented unrest in Yemen; sent weapons to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in violation of the arms embargo; taken another American hostage and refused to release the ones it presently holds; and continued its support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists. In practice, it appears that your administration has allowed Iran to dictate the implementation of the nuclear deal by not taking punitive action for any of these transgressions.
 
To address these concerns, as well as to demonstrate to Iran’s leadership the consequences of further illicit behavior, we request that you provide a roadmap of what you consider to be illicit behavior from Iran, and what sanctions or punitive steps will be taken in the event of such behavior. Specifically, we ask you to describe what actions the Treasury Department is ready to take against those individuals and entities involved in the ballistic missile program and those Iranian and foreign banks that are financing it.
 
If your goal is to ensure Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, it is absolutely crucial that Iran’s blatant misbehavior is met with real consequences. As we reportedly near the JCPOA’s
Implementation Day, it is imperative that Congress and the American people be assured that
Iran’s transgressions will not continue to go unpunished.
 
Thank you for your attention to this very serious issue. We look forward to your prompt and detailed response.
 
Sincerely,
 
David Perdue (R-GA)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
Thom Tillis (R-NC)
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Dan Coats (R-IN)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
Cory Gardner (R-CO)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT),
 
—Jan. 15, 2016, in a letter

 

Seven Democratic Representatives
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
We write to express our serious concern with Iran’s recent violation of international law by test-firing medium-range ballistic missiles in October and November 2015.
 
As you know, the United Nations (UN) Security Panel of Experts concluded that the October test was a blatant violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929.  While the UN Panel has yet to characterize Iran’s second medium range ballistic missile test in November as a violation, both exercises foster insecurity in surrounding countries about Iran’s military capabilities and intent.
 
Additionally, an Iranian rocket—fired by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during live-fire exercises—came within just 1,500 feet last week of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman that was operating in the Strait of Hormuz.
 
Such aggressive and destabilizing behavior is deeply troubling, particularly preceding implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and demands a U.S. response. While not all of us share the same opinion on the JCPOA, we are united in our desire to ensure it is vigilantly enforced and to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
 
For this reason, the United States and our allies must take immediate, punitive action and send a clear message to Iran that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences. We understand the Administration is preparing sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and we urge you to announce such sanctions without further delay.
 
Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that, in the wake of the JCPOA, the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support for terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region—including in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip. This behavior—including these ballistic missile tests—poses a direct threat to American national security interests and those of our allies.
 
As Members of Congress committed to regional and international security and stability, we stand ready to assist you in holding Iran accountable for its actions. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, and we look forward to your response.
 
Sincerely,
NITA M. LOWEY
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ                                         
ELIOT L. ENGEL
ALBIO SIRES                                           
GERALD E. CONNOLLY                              
SUSAN DAVIS
JERROLD NADLER 
—Jan. 6, 2016, in a letter

 

36 Republican Senators organized by Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, in addition to Ambassador Samantha Power's determination two months ago, the United Nations Security Council's Panel of Experts on Iran has reportedly concluded that Iran's October 10 test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon violated United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929. As we have repeatedly emphasized, condemnations of Iran's blatant disregard for its international obligations are not enough. A failure of your administration to follow tough statements with tangible consequences invites Iran to continue violating its obligations and threatens Americans and our allies.

 
Approximately a week after Iran's October 10 test, Ambassador Power confirmed that the test was a "clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929." After that test, many of us called for your administration to hold Iran accountable-warning that a failure to do so encourages more violations. Not surprisingly, on November 21, Iran reportedly conducted another ballistic missile test.
 
These ballistic missile tests enhance Tehran's capability to target our ally Israel and U.S. military personnel in the region. They also help Iran advance its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program that-once fielded-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said would serve as Tehran's "preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons..." That is why it is a mistake to treat Iran's ballistic missile program as separate from Iran's nuclear program. Iran is developing ICBM capabilities for the sole purpose of enabling delivery of a nuclear weapon to the United States.
 
On July 7, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, testified that "...under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities..." We are concerned that the nuclear agreement with Iran will do just that, and a failure to enforce UNSCR 1929 will only relieve the pressure on Iran further.
 
On October 14, Ambassador Power said, "One of the really important features in implementation of the recent Iran deal to dismantle Iran's nuclear program is going to have to be enforcement of the resolutions and the standards that remain on the books." We could not agree more, and we are concerned that your administration is failing to respond to Iran's dangerous and destabilizing actions out of an eagerness to see the Iran deal go forward. This approach toward Tehran undermines further an already weak Iran deal and jeopardizes our national security interests and the safety of Americans and our allies.
 
For these reasons, we urge your administration to not lift sanctions on Iran that would provide billions of dollars in economic relief.
 
Thank you for your attention to this very serious issue.
 
Sincerely,
Kelly Ayotte
Mark Kirk
John McCain
John Thune
Tom Cotton
Mike Lee
Dan Sullivan
Roger Wicker
John Cornyn
Orrin Hatch
Mitch McConnell
Thom Tillis
David Perdue
Roy Blunt
James Risch
Michael Enzi
Cory Gardner
M. Michael Rounds
Deb Fischer
Lisa Murkowski
Johnny Isakson
Lindsey Graham
Chuck Grassley
John Boozman
John Barrasso
James Inhofe
Jerry Moran
Pat Roberts
Ted Cruz
Lamar Alexander
Joni Ernst
Patrick Toomey
Ben Sasse
Tim Scott
Dean Heller
Mike Crapo
—Dec. 16, 2015, in a letter
 

 

21 Democratic Senators organized by Ben Cardin (D-MD)
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
We are deeply concerned by Iran’s continued violations of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929 by testing a second ballistic missile on November 21, 2015.  Once again, the international community has an opportunity to demonstrate its resolve in the face of Iranian violations of its international obligations.
 
On December 15, a panel of expert monitors working on behalf of the United Nations Security Council reported that, "On the basis of its analysis and findings the Panel concludes that the Emad launch on October 10th is a violation by Iran of paragraph 9 of Security Council Resolution 1929."  Unfortunately, some members of the UN Security Council failed to condemn this violation and failed to take steps collectively to enforce Resolution 1929.  If there are no consequences for this violation, Iran’s leaders will certainly also question the willingness of the international community to respond to violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231. 
 
The November test is Iran’s second recent violation of UNSCR 1929, which clearly states “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”  Clearly, the Security Council should take appropriate enforcement action against Iran in the face of this violation. On this matter, we recognize and appreciate United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power’s ongoing efforts to build support to enforce consequences for the October 10 ballistic missile test by referring the issue to the Iran Sanctions Committee and advocating for a forceful response by the UN Security Council. However, in the time it took the Panel of Experts to make a determination on the first violation, Iran tested another ballistic missile.
 
In the absence of a UN Security Council commitment to enforcing UNSCR 1929, we request that you take action unilaterally, or in coordination with our European allies.  Such action is essential to make clear to Iran’s leaders that there will be consequences for future violations of UN Security Council Resolutions and that the United States reserves the right under the JCPOA to take unilateral action in response to this and other significant actions by Iran in the areas of ballistic missile development, terrorism and human rights.
 
Sincerely,
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Richard Blumenthal
Senator Christopher Coons
Senator Gary Peters
Senator Michael F. Bennet
Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Heidi Heitkamp
Senator Tim Kaine
Senator Bill Nelson
Senator Edward J. Markey
Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand
Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Senator Mark R. Warner
Senator Cory A. Booker
Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Martin Heinrich
Senator Barbara A. Mikulski
Senator Jeff Merkley 
—Dec. 17, 2015, in a letter
 
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
 
In July, the Obama administration reached a dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, despite opposition from a bipartisan majority in the House. 
 
“Nevertheless, the hasn’t stopped Iran from continuing to imprison American citizens, like Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, or developing advanced weapons to attack the West. 
 
“Yesterday, we learned that Iran recently tested a medium-range ballistic missile in direct violation of two United Nations Security Council resolutions. In fact, the nuclear agreement itself calls on Tehran to stop its ballistic missile program for at least the next eight years. 
 
“This marks the second time Iran has illegally tested a ballistic missile since the nuclear agreement was signed. And yet the response from the Obama administration has effectively been nothing. 
 
“It’s clear Iran feels immune to pursue its illicit behavior despite the so-called binding, international agreement it just signed. The administration may give the mullahs another free pass, but we will not. 
 
“This week, the House will consider bipartisan legislation to sanction the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah—an Iranian proxy responsible for hundreds of American deaths. Deal or no deal, we cannot allow Iran’s threatening activities to continue without consequence. 
—Dec. 8, 2015, via the Speaker’s Press Office 
 
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
 
“What has happened as a result of Iran violating the U.N. Security Council resolutions as it relates to missile testing? Absolutely nothing. Something is wrong because the silence is so deafening.”
 
“Iran can support terror, Iran can develop its nuclear program, Iran can foment secretariat conflict across the Middle East … and yet, it will be rewarded with a multibillion dollar sanctions relief this coming year.”
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a floor statement 
 
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
 
“Iran violates U.N. Security Council resolutions because it knows neither this administration nor the U.N. Security Council is likely to take any action,” 
 
“Instead, the administration remains paralyzed and responds to Iran's violations with empty words of condemnation and concern. These continued violations without consequences also validate concern that all leverage will shift to Iran once sanctions are removed. If we cannot respond to a clear violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, I have no faith that the U.N. and the Obama administration will implement any form of snapback in response to Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement. 
 
“The administration has the authority to penalize foreign individuals who engage in proliferation-related activities like ballistic missile launches,”  
 
“They have used that authority in the past, and should do so again.” 
—Dec. 8, 2015 in a press release 
 
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)
 
“I don't know why the administration has hesitated, but I am urging them publicly and privately to move ahead with those designations.”
 
“I am concerned with the hesitation to move forward with the ballistic missile related designations.”
 
“We should take action, and I think that’s critical to our demonstrating a determination to hold Iran accountable for its acts.”
—Jan. 11, 2016, to reporters
 
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
 
Dear Mr. President,

As you know, on October 10, Iran conducted a test of a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. Ambassador Power confirmed that the test was a "clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929." On October 14, we sent a letter to you asking what specific steps your administration planned to take in order to respond to this test. In that letter, we emphasized our concern that tough statements followed by inaction would further undermine U.S. national security. Almost two months later, we have not received a substantive response, and it is not clear whether your administration has taken any appropriate steps to hold Tehran accountable for its violation of its international commitments. Yesterday, not surprisingly, there were reports that Iran conducted another ballistic missile test on November 21, and we write again to ask how your administration will respond.
 
As we emphasized in our October letter, we have three major concerns about these tests. First, these ballistic missile tests further Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program that-once fielded-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said would serve as Tehran's "preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons..." The tests also underscore yet again Tehran's longstanding and continued willingness to ignore its obligations and demonstrate that we should not expect Iran to abide by its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Finally, the ballistic missile tests enhance Tehran's capability to target our ally Israel and U.S. military personnel in the region. In fact, recent reports suggest that the missile tested by Iran last month has a range of approximately 1,200 miles. In addition to advancing Tehran's ICBM program, that means Tehran could use this missile to threaten thousands of forward deployed U.S. troops, Israel, and eastern Europe.
 
The December 2, 2015, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report only heightens these concerns. According to the report on Iran's nuclear program, the IAEA assessed that "Iran conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009." This was more recent than many suspected. The IAEA report makes clear that Iran continues to hide its activities. Most disturbingly, the IAEA concluded that Tehran's activities at the Parchin military complex "seriously undermined the Agency's ability to conduct effective verification."
 
While your administration has attempted to treat Iran's ballistic missile program as separate from Iran's nuclear program, this approach does not withstand scrutiny-as DNI Clapper's testimony makes clear. Iran is developing ICBM capabilities and the sole purpose of an Iranian ICBM is to enable delivery of a nuclear weapon to the United States. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, testified that "...under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities..." Unfortunately, that is exactly one of the things that the Iran deal will accomplish.
 
In light of this, we renew our questions in our October 14, 2015, letter to you, and we reiterate our belief that a failure to hold Iran accountable to its international obligations will invite more violations from Tehran and further endanger the security of Americans and our allies. In short, we would like to know what specific steps your administration plans to take to respond Iran's two ballistic missile tests in as many months. 

Thank you for your attention to this very serious issue.
Senator Kelly Ayotte
Senator Mark Kirk
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a letter
 
Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)
 
Dear President Obama,
 
We write to express our deep concern over Iran's launch of a long-range ballistic missile on October 11, 2015 in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929. Iran's acquisition of such capacity threatens both the security of Israel and the interests of the United States in the region; we urge you to hold Iran accountable for this action. Additional reports this week now indicate that a second violation has taken place. According to Western officials, Iran conducted another missile test, in violation of UNSC resolutions, on November 21st.
 
We, like many of our colleagues, held differing views about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) when it came before Congress for a vote. However, we now share a sharp focus on scrupulous verification and rigorous enforcement, both of the nuclear deal itself and of Iran's other obligations under international law. It is critically important that the United Nations Security. Council (UNSC) continue to enforce the resolutions that govern Iran's acquisition and development of missile technology, for these provisions have profound impacts on the national security interests of the United States and our allies. Should the UNSC fail to do so, the United States must take action on its own.
 
If the Government of Iran is truly progressing, in line with its JCPOA commitments, towards the day when the IAEA can reach the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear materials in the country remain in peaceful activities, then its leaders should have no need for technology capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and they should have no objection to full compliance with UNSC resolutions 1929 and 2331. The October 11th launch clearly violated UNSC Resolution 1929, which remains in effect until Implementation Day, as well as UNSC Resolution 2331, which becomes effective on Implementation Day. Both resolutions prohibit Iran from undertaking activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, "including launches using such ballistic missile technology."'
 
We urge you to call on the Security Council to condemn this violation and to sanction any entity involved in this illegal launch. If the Security Council does not act to sanction such a clear-cut violation of international law, the Administration, or Congress, must act unilaterally to impose U.S. sanctions against these entities. As we move towards implementation of the JCPOA, the response of the Security Council and the United States to this incident must establish a critical precedent: that Iran's full compliance with the JCPOA and with UN Security Council Resolutions is non-negotiable.
 
United States leadership in establishing this precedent is critical to international security, particularly to our allies in the region. Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.
Sincerely,
 
Ted Deutch Member of Congress
Kennedy III Member of Congress
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a letter
 
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
 
“Nobody should be surprised that Iran is already breaking the agreement. They never intended to follow the agreement. Iran knew that. The Obama administration knew that. Israel knew that. Everyone knew it. This is about a domestic objective for the Obama administration.”
 
Iran “will continue breaking the deal, using the millions of dollars the Obama administration is trying to send them, to fund radical Islamic terrorists across the globe who will murder innocent Americans, innocent Europeans, and innocent Israelis, and to accelerate their nuclear weapons development program.”
—Dec. 10, 2015, according to the Free Beacon
 
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)
 
“When the President was pursuing his misguided nuclear deal with Iran, many of us warned that Iran would cheat. We warned that Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, would take billions in sanctions relief while continuing to build up their arsenal, prop up the Assad regime, and arm terror groups dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Iran has done exactly that.
 
“The Obama Administration has been stunningly indifferent. Iran has violated U.N. travel sanctions by sending General Qassem Soleimani, a man responsible for the death of American troops in Iraq, on a visit to Russia. They’ve repeatedly violated U.N. resolutions prohibiting the testing of ballistic missiles, which could be topped with a nuclear warhead.
 
“The American people were told to trust that the Obama Administration could hold Iran accountable for bad behavior. Iran’s recent conduct, and the Administration’s lack of response, prove that the current U.S. policy of engagement with this murderous and deceitful regime is a dangerous farce. I have no confidence that Iran will abide by the terms of the nuclear deal reached this past summer.
 
“It’s time for the Administration to respond to Iranian belligerence. Inaction is no longer an option.”
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a statement
 
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ)
 
“Despite the opposition of the American people and the majority of Congress, President Obama signed a dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. As predicted by myself and my colleagues, we have seen little-to-no change in Iran’s behavior as they continue to break international agreements. Yesterday, we learned that the Iranian regime tested a ballistic missile—the second they’ve tested since the deal was signed. This clearly violates U.N. security council resolutions, including the same U.N. resolution that endorsed the Iran deal. In addition to these tests, a recent IAEA report found that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons as recently as 2009.
 
“The administration cannot sit idly by as Iran continues to violate international agreements, and I call on them to take these violations seriously. It’s obvious that Iran has ambitions to create nuclear weapons, and therefore the United States should continue the economic sanctions that successfully brought this tyrannical regime to the negotiating table.  The safety and security of the United States and its allies is my top priority, and I will continue to fight to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.”

—Dec. 8, 2015, in a statement