U.S. Condemns Iran’s Missile Test

On December 1, the United States condemned Iran’s test of a medium range ballistic missile reportedly capable of striking parts of Europe and anywhere in the Middle East. “This test violates U.N. Security Council resolution 2231 that bans Iran from undertaking ‘any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,’” claimed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

The launch may have been provocative, but it was not a violation, according to Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Americas. Resolution 2231 only “calls upon” Iran to not test missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. “This exhortation is why, after other launches over the past two years, the U.S. and its European partners have issued condemnatory statements saying the tests were ‘in defiance of’ or ‘inconsistent with’ the resolution.” Secretary of Defense James Mattis seemed careful to say that the launch “violated the sense” of the resolution. 

In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister pointed out that other U.S. officials have previously noted the resolution’s language. 


For years, Washington has imposed sanctions on individuals and firms for supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile program. Missiles are a particularly important part of Iran’s deterrent strategy because its air force is relatively weak. Iranian officials have often claimed that their missiles are for defensive purposes only. The U.S. Special Representative for Iran challenged this assertion in remarks to the press on December 3. “How exactly is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism entitled to a claim of defense?” he asked, rhetorically. “Is smuggling missiles to the Houthis in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia and the Emirates defensive?” The following are excerpted remarks U.S. officials on the launch and Iranian reactions. 


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

PompeoThe Iranian regime has just test-fired a medium range ballistic missile that is capable of carrying multiple warheads. The missile has a range that allows it to strike parts of Europe and anywhere in the Middle East. This test violates UN Security Council resolution 2231 that bans Iran from undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology . . .” 

As we have been warning for some time, Iran’s missile testing and missile proliferation is growing. We are accumulating risk of escalation in the region if we fail to restore deterrence. We condemn these activities, and call upon Iran to cease immediately all activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

—Dec. 1, 2018, in a statement


Secretary of Defense James Mattis

MattisMR. BAIER: Today, Secretary Pompeo released a statement saying Iran has test launched a ballistic missile with multiple independent warheads. What can you tell us about this launch? And how would you rate the threat from Iran, maybe compared to the threat of North Korea? 

SEC. MATTIS: Iran is an interesting case of a regime that does not care for the best interest of their people. They’re a revolutionary cause at that level. They take actions, constant actions, that actually put their people in worse position. 

The threat from Iran is multifaceted, and certainly what they have done with this launch is violated the sense of the United Nations Security Resolution, that told them not to do these kinds of launches. It shows that our best efforts to try to talk them out of their aggressive support of terrorism is probably going to be as unsuccessful as the U.N.'s effort to stop them from launching missiles.

And right now the strategic level of threat from Iran is less worldwide than Korea's, but it is certainly significant regionally, and it could grow beyond that if it's not dealt with.

MR. BAIER: And this recent launch is significant? 



Clearly this administration has changed direction when it comes to Iran on foreign policy focus from the last administration. Some of the critics say maybe too far. The Wall Street Journal today reported that the CIA has medium to high confidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman personally targeted Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist, and probably ordered his death. Do you agree with that? 

SEC. MATTIS: Well, first, when it comes to Iran, that is a factor we're going to have to deal with. It's best dealt with diplomatically. Where diplomatic means don't work, the more we can unite everyone to confront Iran, we have to do so. 

When it comes to the Khashoggi murder, we have every expectation that whoever was involved in this, whether directly involved or directing the murder, is going to be held to account. That is our country's expectation. We see that as not in any way reducing the strategic imperative to work together, as many nations as possible, to keep Iran, keep their mischief, their murderous mischief, under control, to reduce it, to roll it back. 

You know what they do through their proxies, Lebanese Hezbollah in Lebanon. You've seen what they've done in Syria to keep a murderer in power, and he would not be in power today were it not for the Iranian regime.

Again, we do not have issues with the Iranian people; it's the regime. And what we're going to have to do is figure a way to have the two thrusts, accountability for Khashoggi's murder, and unified confrontation against Iran's mischief, their terrorism, their murder, their mayhem, and keep those two lines of effort unrelenting. 

We want to know what happened by -- who all was engaged with Khashoggi. At the same time, we cannot deny the threat that Iran poses to all civilized nations. 

— Dec. 1, 2018, in remarks to the press


Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook

HookMR HOOK:  The Iranian Government claims that its missile testing is purely defensive in nature.  How exactly is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism entitled to a claim of defense?  In fact, Iran’s security concerns are entirely self-generated.  Was a plot to bomb Paris defensive?  Was the assassination attempt in Denmark defensive?  Is smuggling missiles to the Houthis in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia and the Emirates defensive?  Is harboring al-Qaida defensive?  Is smuggling heroin through Italy defensive?  Is overthrowing the legitimate Government of Bahrain violently – is that defensive? 

And so for the last 12 years, the UN Security Council has been telling the Iranian regime to stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles, and Iran continues to defy the UN Security Council, which is acting like an outlaw regime.  Iran’s continued testing and proliferation of ballistic missiles shows that the Iran deal has not moderated the Iranian regime as some had hoped.  It was a mistake to exclude missiles from the Iran nuclear deal, and it is one of the principal reasons that the United States left it. 

Let’s take a step back for just one minute.  Iran’s defense needs would be entirely different if they had not decided to wage sectarian wars of choice for the last 39 years.  It’s the Iranian regime’s foreign policy that has placed Iran into conflict with other nations.  Iran today faces no natural threat from its Arab neighbors, Israel, or Afghanistan.  Before the 1979 revolution, Iran enjoyed relations with these same neighbors.  But today, Iran’s military is the largest in the region.  Its revolutionary forces are present in nearly every neighboring nation.  Its militias spread like a cancer, eroding stability and threatening peace and global trade in both the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb, which allows them to choke the Suez Canal.  So we condemn the launch, as have the Brits and others. 

Just a few days ago, we unveiled new evidence of Iran’s missile proliferation.  Three days later, they test-launched another medium-range missile ballistic missile.  We have been warning the world for some time that we are accumulating risk of a regional conflict if we do not deter Iran’s missile testing and proliferation.  Iran is on the wrong track, and our campaign of maximum economic pressure is designed to starve the regime of revenue it needs to test missiles and to proliferate missiles, for terrorism, conduct cyber attacks and make acts of maritime aggression and many human rights abuses.  The Iranian people deserve a government that represents their interests and not just the interests of their violent and corrupt leaders. 

QUESTION:  What do you say about the fact that the UN resolution itself says it calls upon them to stop testing ballistic missiles?

MR HOOK:  Refrain from – yeah.  Well, it’s – for the last 12 years, the UN Security Council has been consistent in telling Iran to stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles, and they’ve said that in various versions over 12 years.  They have been consistent, and Iran is defying the council.

QUESTION:  If I may, you just mentioned Yemen.  Is the – the U.S. (inaudible) for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen (inaudible) to proceed.  Now, is this (inaudible)?

MR HOOK:  Well we are calling for an urgent ceasefire in Yemen.  We also recognize the right of nations who are attacked by Iranian-backed Houthis to protect themselves.  And so I think Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo have done a good job of explaining the various parallel tracks that we are advancing in Yemen.  The United States and the coalition have provided billions of aid to the people in Yemen who are suffering humanitarian catastrophe.  Iran has provided soldiers and weapons and missiles and funding and training of the Houthis, hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years to organize and train and equip the Houthis, and this war has gone on longer than makes any sense, because in part – large part – the Iranians have made the Houthis much more effective than they otherwise would be.  So any -- …

QUESTION:  To what end?  What are you looking to do on this trip related to Iran?

MR HOOK:  Well, we are – we would like to see – we would like to see the European Union move sanctions that target Iran’s missile program.

QUESTION:  Brian, we’ve given several countries oil waivers, and I know we’ve talked about – you want to get those exports out of Iran to zero as quickly as possible.  With the new missile tests, does that speed up that timeline?

MR HOOK:  Well, we had to grant oil waivers to ensure that we did not increase the price of oil.  Now that – in 2019 we expect a much better-supplied oil market, and that will put us in a much better position to accelerate the path to zero.

QUESTION:  Everything you’ve said here is not new with the exception of this idea that you’re going to push on the Europeans to propose new sanctions.  Is that it?  I mean, you said there could be regional conflict.

MR HOOK:  No, no, no.  What – well, no.  What is new is that we are responding to Iran’s claim that its missile testing is defensive in nature and that its missile inventory is defensive.  It’s not defensive in nature.  So I laid that out at the beginning.

QUESTION:  What specifics can you get into about the nature of the missiles?  I mean, are these nuclear-capable type of ballistic weapons?

MR HOOK:  Yes.  Iran has launched missiles that are capable of carrying multiple warheads, including a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION:  Is there anything that you can tell us about the discussions with the Europeans?  Because they’ve resisted so far cooperating with you on Iran and missiles.  Are you hoping to get anything beyond more talks and more --

MR HOOK:  I wouldn’t say that they have resisted cooperating.  We have one difference of opinion with the E3 and it’s over the Iran nuclear – it’s on – over the Iran nuclear deal.  We share the same threat assessment. 

They – take a look at what Foreign Secretary Hunt said about the missile test.  They all know that Iran is acting in defiance of the UN Security Council and their missiles are a threat to peace and security.  The Europeans understand that fully and I believe that we are making progress toward getting a proposal tabled in Brussels that would designate the individuals and the entities that are facilitating Iran’s missile program.  It is a grave and escalating threat.  And nations around the world, not just Europe, need to do everything they can to be targeting Iran’s missile program.

QUESTION:  What’s the nature of the concern among the Europeans that kind of stops them from being closer to your side on the sanctions efforts?

MR HOOK:  Well, they did – the French did take actions.  We’ve seen the French take actions against the bomb plot in Paris.  Denmark’s taking action.  So we are seeing – the Europeans are doing something.

QUESTION:  Slowly --

MR HOOK:  Yeah, and so – yes, I would say that they also see the expanding threat, and they also understand that over the last few years, Iran has expanded its threats to peace and security in a range of domains.

QUESTION:  The proposal is looking at naming the people involved in the program with the Europeans and they do not necessarily have that (inaudible). What exactly would the proposal say?  Would it be – is it – are you looking to identify the people responsible and this is exclusively about missiles or --

MR HOOK:  Well, the – yeah, the United States has imposed sanctions on a number of individuals and entities who are supporting Iran’s missile program.  We think those sanctions can be effective if more nations can also join us in that effort.

—Dec. 3, 2018, in a briefing in Belgium


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


Iranian foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Qassemi

“No U.N. Security Council resolution has banned Iran’s missile program or missile tests.”

“The interesting and of course farcical point here is that you are referring to a resolution that you have not only violated by unilaterally and illegally withdrawing from the JCPOA, but also you urge others to breach it, and even threaten to punish or slap sanctions on them if they implement the agreement.”

—Dec. 2, 2018, in a statement 


Some of the information in this article was originally published on December 3, 2018.