Congress on Iran, Missile Test

February 6, 2017

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have condemned Iran’s January 29 ballistic missile test. Many also criticized Tehran for destabilizing the region through its sponsorship for terrorist organizations and militias. The following are recent remarks by members of Congress on Iran.


Bipartisan Letter to President Trump

Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Corker (R-TN) and 20 colleagues

Dear Mr. President: 

We are concerned by reports that Iran conducted a ballistic missile test on January 29, 2017.  If it is confirmed that Iran tested a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, Iran will have again violated both the letter and spirit of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015) not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology. 

Iranian leaders must feel sufficient pressure to cease deeply destabilizing activities, from sponsoring terrorist groups to continued testing of ballistic missiles.  Full enforcement of existing sanctions and the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program are necessary.  Moreover, we are hopeful that the international community can unite around the common cause of countering Iran’s troubling actions.

We look forward to supporting your Administration’s efforts to hold Iran accountable, and note the positive step taken by the United States calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.  It is imperative that the United States lead the international community in enforcing UN Security Council resolution 2231.


Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE)

Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO)

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Senator James E. Risch (R-ID)

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Senator Todd Young (R-IN)

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA)

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)

Senator Michael F. Bennet (D-CO)

Senator Jeff Flake(R-AZ)

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)


—Feb. 2, 2017, in a letter


Senators John Cornyn, Marco Rubio, and Todd Young

“Action,” Mark Twain once observed, “speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”  Unfortunately, this observation aptly describes the last administration’s Iran policy.

In April 2015, as President Obama tried to sell the deeply flawed Iran nuclear agreement to Congress and the American people, he vowed that “[o]ther American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.”

Yet the Obama administration responded to Iran’s escalating ballistic missile activities, support for terrorism and other rogue regimes, and human rights abuses with inaction.

This has encouraged Iran—whose government is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan—to continue and even escalate its destabilization efforts, threatening the United States and our allies.

In fact, Iran defiantly continues to test ballistic missiles, most recently last weekend.  Iran’s challenge to the new administration underscores the immediate need for a tougher U.S. policy.

To reverse this dangerous dynamic, the new administration and Congress should start imposing serious consequences on Iran. That’s why we recently introduced the Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act to impose severe financial and economic sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile violations, human rights abuses, and support for terrorism.

Iran’s continued development of its ballistic missile program illustrates why tough words from the Obama administration were not enough—and why Congress and the White House should adopt this legislation without delay.

Iran, thanks in part to assistance from North Korea and Russian entities over the years, possesses the Middle East’s largest and most formidable ballistic missile arsenal—an arsenal that already threatens our forward deployed troops, Israel, and our other allies in the region.

This reality explains why General Martin Dempsey, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in July 2015 that “under no circumstances should we relieve the pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities[.]”  Yet, relieving the pressure was exactly what both the Iran nuclear deal and the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 did.

After Iran predictably fired ballistic missiles in late 2015, the Obama administration responded belatedly in January 2016 by issuing tough statements and imposing weak sanctions that amounted to little more than a symbolic slap on the wrist.

Not surprisingly, the regime in Tehran was not impressed, and responded by escalating ballistic missile development and testing.  In fact, a few months later, Iran provocatively fired two ballistic missiles with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” emblazoned in Hebrew on the side.

Such Iranian provocations are disconcerting for our allies in Israel, but Americans should not view Iran’s ballistic missile program as solely a regional threat.  Our intelligence community believes that Tehran would utilize “ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons,” and that Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles provides Tehran with the means to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could eventually deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States.

Reflecting a broader failure of foreign policy, the previous administration also did not impose sufficient consequences on Iran for its support for terrorism and abuse of human rights.  As a result, leaders in Tehran— and also in Moscow, Beijing, Damascus, and Pyongyang— came to view the U.S. as a paper tiger that often responds to belligerent activities by roaring loudly and going back to sleep.

Our values and national security interests, as well as the safety of Americans and our allies, demand action.  We should not sit idly by and pretend the status quo is acceptable as Iran continues to strengthen its ballistic missile arsenal and support terrorists.

We welcome the statements by President Trump and National Security Advisor Flynn with respect to Iran’s ballistic missile program.  It is time to take action with respect to Iran’s growing missile threats, terrorism support, and human rights abuses.  That’s why we introduced the Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act, and why we call on lawmakers of both parties to join us in seeking its passage and sending it to the president for his signature.

—Feb. 2, 2017, in an OpEd on Fox News


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)

“Iran’s latest ballistic missile test was a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions. This swift and decisive response proves that our new administration is serious about holding the Iranian regime accountable for its illicit behavior. I applaud President Trump for imposing new sanctions to crack down on Tehran’s dangerous ballistic missile program and support for terrorism across the globe.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN)

“No longer will Iran be given a pass for its repeated ballistic missile violations, continued support of terrorism, human rights abuses and other hostile activities that threaten international peace and security,”

“I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration to hold Iran accountable for this and other violations while ensuring radical enforcement of existing restrictions on its nuclear program.”

—Jan. 30, 2017, in a statement

"I am very encouraged by the seriousness with which President Trump is approaching the full range of threats Iran poses to American interests. It is clear that Iran will no longer be given a pass and will be held accountable for its illicit behavior."

Feb. 1, 2017, in a statement following a meeting with NSA Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret.)

“This announcement makes clear that it is a new day in U.S.-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior,”

“A coordinated, multi-faceted effort to pushback against a range of illicit Iranian behavior is long overdue, and after speaking with General Flynn this morning, I am very encouraged by the professionalism with which the administration has orchestrated these actions and how they have communicated their intentions to the international community. I look forward to working with the Trump administration and my congressional colleagues in a bipartisan manner to strongly enforce nuclear restrictions and further hold Iran accountable.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement regarding the new sanctions against Iran announced by the Trump administration

“We finally are pushing back [on Iran] in the way that we should,”

“They've violated the missile test ban; they've violated conventional weapons purchases; they're violating the amount of heavy water that they keep in place, and so I'm just thankful that we've got an administration now that is on top of this…They laid out a plan. They called their international partners around the world early this morning, and they put it in place; and I congratulate them and thank them and appreciate the opportunity to work with them on this.”

“If we do not push back against Iran and just…radically enforce this agreement, they will take every opportunity to violate, and over time, you know, they will, in fact, be in a very different place,”

“So this is an important step; it's an important signal, and I think more is going to be coming on the way.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box"


Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ)

“I welcome President Trump’s decision to impose additional sanctions on Iran. For too long, a myopic focus on the Iran nuclear deal blinded the United States to Iran’s persistent campaign to destabilize the Middle East and undermine America’s national security interests. Iran has been given a free pass to detain U.S. sailors in clear violation of international law, conduct ballistic missiles tests in violation of United Nations resolutions, support terrorist groups across the region, and prop up the murderous Assad regime in Syria. It is long past time for the United States and the international community to hold Iran accountable, not just for its commitments under the nuclear deal, but for its destabilizing behavior across the Middle East. I hope the measures announced today by the Trump administration will serve as a first step towards a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s malign influence and protect America’s national security interests.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement


House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA)

“Iran’s dangerous and provocative acts are a direct threat to the United States and our allies.  I’m glad the administration is taking long-overdue steps to hold the regime accountable.  I look forward to working with the administration to build on these designations, push back against Iran’s destructive policies, and promote stability in the Middle East.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement


House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX)

"If you look at what's happening around the world, I would mention Iran and North Korea, the importance of missile defense is increasing,"

"Actors around the world are building missiles that are harder to stop,"

—Feb. 6, 2017, in comments calling for increased US spending on missile defense


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD)

“Yesterday I sent a bipartisan letter with 21 other Senators to express our alarm at Iran’s ballistic missile test and ask President Trump to enforce existing sanctions and consider additional sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program. 

“Today, the Administration took a step forward by enforcing existing sanctions while not violating U.S. obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The current set of measures continue the work of the Obama Administration, by designating individuals and entities in the same proliferation networks as those already sanctioned in January 2016 by President Obama. 

“The U.S. must counter Iran’s destabilizing activities including the regimes sponsorship of terrorism across the region, its ballistic missile program, provocative maritime activities, and cybercrime. However, it is critical that the United States respond to Iranian malfeasance in a thoughtful and calculated manner. This requires a thorough review across all of our national security departments and agencies and consultation with our European partners before policies are undertaken.  Rushed statements from the National Security Advisor ‘putting Iran on notice’ or twitter rants from the President are dangerous and risk setting off a cycle of escalation and miscalculation that it is not in the U.S. national security interest, or the interests of our partners and allies.

“When formulating policy toward Iran, I urge the Trump Administration to set aside reckless rhetoric and engage Congress on a bipartisan basis to craft a responsible, coherent, and implementable strategy.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement


Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

“Well, I think he is right in this. I think Iran is wrong in this. Let me be very clear, these are not nuclear ballistic missiles, they are conventional ballistic missiles but Iran has a lot of them, more than anybody else in that area, and the need to test right now, I think, is dangerous and should not have happened. Iran also has an election coming up, this year, the first part of the year, and how much of this is political, I can’t tell. Is it a mistake? Is it wrong? Yes. Now, the president has taken action with some sanctions and we’ll have to see if they have an effect.”

—Feb. 5, 2017, in an interview on Fox News


Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

“I appreciate the Trump administration’s announcement of sanctions on Iranian individuals. Executive sanctions are the first step in a long journey to check the Ayatollah and his radical regime. Now, the next step should be enacting congressionally authorized sectoral sanctions to punish Iran for destabilizing the Middle East, being the largest state sponsor of terror, humiliating American sailors, and continuing efforts to advance its ballistic missile programs. Without sectoral sanctions passed by Congress, the likelihood of Iranians changing their behavior is minimal.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement


Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)

“Iran remains the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror and the biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East, despite the lopsided deal struck by the former Administration,”

“It’s time Congress and our new President impose real economic consequences for Iran’s actions to make clear that the United States vehemently opposes Iran’s human rights abuses, terrorist activities around the world, and pursuit of ballistic missile capabilities.”

—Jan. 24, 2017, in a statement regarding the Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act introduced with Senators Marco Rubio and Todd Young


Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

“I strongly condemn Iran’s test firing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, in blatant violation of UN Security Council 2231. This is the latest of Iran’s flagrant violations of its international obligations, and the latest effort to foment instability in the Middle East.

“These latest test launches of Iranian ballistic missiles must not go unnoticed by the international community and the United States must lead the way by taking decisive actions against individuals and companies who provided any kind of material support for these by imposing and tightening sanctions. I will work with my colleagues in Congress, where we have a long tradition of bipartisan support to hold Iran accountable for its destabilizing actions, whether testing ballistic missiles, supporting terrorist proxy networks or violating basic human rights of its own citizens. I call on the full weight of the United States government not to overlook this provocative test and to firmly stand with our allies against Iranian aggression.”

—Jan. 31, 2017, in a statement


Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

“These new sanctions on Iran are an important step in the process of reversing President Obama’s failed policy of appeasement, but there’s more to do. In the near term, I urge the Trump Administration to give the American people full transparency about the flawed Iran nuclear deal and any side agreements that the Obama Administration refused to come clean on. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to send the White House strong legislation to counter Iran’s missile and terrorist threats, and its egregious human rights abuses.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement

“After years of unilateral concessions and flexibility by the previous administration, it’s time for the United States to push back against Iran’s support for terrorism, the regime’s menacing ballistic missile activities and its egregious human rights violations,”

“I look forward to working with the new administration to hold Iran fully accountable for both its nonnuclear and nuclear threats.”

—Jan. 24, 2017, in a statement regarding the Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act introduced with Senators John Cornyn and Todd Young


Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)

Since the inauguration, the White House has taken several ham-handed escalatory steps that bring into question whether Trump and his most radical advisors are begging for war with Iran. This would be a disaster of epic scale, perhaps eclipsing the nightmare of the Iraq War. Republicans and Democrats need to start viewing President Trump’s actions and words as a possible accidental or intentional prelude to major conflict, and taking steps to counter this dangerous slide to war. 

The descent began with last Friday’s executive order barring Iranian citizens from entering the United States. Potentially the most dangerous result of the order was to empower the most hardline clerics in Iran—threatening not just our own security, but our ally Israel’s as well. …

Making matters worse this week, instead of trying to heal the wounds created by Friday’s executive order, Trump’s new National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, doubled down on the path to conflict. Though Trump’s executive order was the proximate cause of the ballistic missile launch, that doesn’t excuse it. Flynn appropriately warned Iran that the test would be met with consequences from the United States and the international community. Though the wording of “putting Iran on notice” was a bit odd, a strong message in the wake of the tests was warranted. …

What was so dangerous about Flynn’s statement was that he is now suggesting that Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia could lead to war between the United States and Iran. This makes no sense.

—Feb. 3, 2017, in an op-ed on The Huffington Post


Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO)

“I welcome today’s announcement of new sanctions against Iran,”

"For eight years, the past administration failed to deal with the Iranian threat in any meaningful way, going so far as to enter into a flawed agreement that gave Iran tens of billions of dollars that allows them to keep testing ballistic missiles, financing terror groups, and threatening our closest ally, Israel. We must punish any and all behavior by the Iranian regime that threatens American interests and those of our close allies."

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement


Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)

"I join the administration in condemning Iran's provocative and dangerous behavior. The last administration might have been willing to look the other way, but the Iranian regime should be aware this administration and Congress won't tolerate deliberate defiance of international agreements and bald-faced attacks against our allies any longer. If Iran continues to thumb its nose at the world, there will be consequences."

—Feb. 1, 2017, in a statement

"The president said we were putting Iran on notice, and I'm glad to see he's as good as his word. Iran's ayatollahs will stop their provocations only if the U.S. shows strength and resolve. These sanctions are long overdue, and they're sending the right message to the regime in Tehran: Cease and desist immediately."

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement


Senator Todd Young (R-IN)

“Iran’s ballistic missile activities pose a serious threat to the national security interests of the U.S. and our allies, and I applaud the Trump administration’s decision to impose new sanctions against Iran following Tehran’s latest provocation last weekend.  This decision represents an important and significant first step, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration to impose even tougher sanctions like those in the legislation I helped introduce to target sectors of the Iranian economy that support Iran’s ballistic missile program,”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement

“Iran remains a preeminent threat due to its continued support for terrorism and its aggressive development of ballistic missiles that threaten our allies, forward deployed troops, and eventually our homeland,”

“This legislation would impose real consequences on Iran and make clear that the days when Tehran’s terrorist and ballistic missile activities elicited little more from Washington than a strong statement and a slap on the wrist are gone.”

—Jan. 24, 2017, in a statement regarding the Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act introduced with Senators John Cornyn and Marco Rubio


House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD)

“Reports of an Iranian ballistic missile test are alarming and ought to be a reminder to all of us that Iran’s autocratic regime continues to flout international laws and U.N. Security Council resolutions as it pursues regional hegemony through threats and intimidation.  While this missile test appears to have failed, there can be no doubt that Iran will continue to invest in ballistic missile development as long as it can do so unimpeded.  That is why I continue to believe that Congress must act and pass ballistic missile sanctions, which would target Iranian entities involved in these launches and third party entities providing support.  The President and his national security team must work in concert with our military, our allies, and with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to ensure that Iran is held fully accountable for its actions and is made to understand the consequences of not halting its illegal ballistic missile program.” 

—Jan. 31, 2017, in a statement


House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY)

“I have long supported new sanctions on those involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and their support for terrorism.  Iran's recent ballistic missile test—in clear violation of international law—certainly deserves today's response.  With the nuclear agreement in place, the United States and our allies need to push back against Iran’s destabilizing behavior around the world.  Iran’s continued support for dangerous actors around the region—including Hezbollah, the Assad regime, the Houthis and Shia militias in Iraq—poses an enormous threat to the United States and our allies.  I support continued efforts to confront Iran’s malign activities, and I will continue to work so that US law provides every tool needed to achieve that goal.”

—Feb. 3, 2017, in a statement



Statements are ordered using the following system: joint letters/OpEds, House Speaker, Senate committee chairmen, House committee chairmen, Senate ranking members, senators (by seniority), House party leadership, House ranking members