October 16, 2015 | Policy Brief

Tehran Tests the West with UN Missile Violation

October 16, 2015 | Policy Brief

Tehran Tests the West with UN Missile Violation

On October 11, Iran successfully tested the launch of the long-range, high-precision “Emad” ballistic missile – the first of its kind that can accurately strike arch-foe Israel.  

Administration officials say that the test “likely” violated United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1929. Adopted in 2010, 1929 was the fifth such resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for its lack of cooperation with the international community in ensuring the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. The resolution also prohibited Iran from developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launching using ballistic missiles technology. The resolution was enacted under UN Charter Chapter VII, Article 41, meaning that member states could use all possible means to enforce this resolution.

Under the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), all UNSC resolutions related to the Iranian nuclear program will be terminated once the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has fulfilled its nuclear obligations. This day will be known as Implementation Day. On July 20, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2231 to provide legal backing to the nuclear agreement.

But Resolution 2231 still calls upon Iran, pursuant to Resolution 1929, to not violate its ballistic missile restrictions for eight years after Implementation Day.

Senior Iranian government officials and military commanders claim the resolution’s wording can be interpreted differently and vow that they will not implement “any JCPOA sections that affect the country’s defenses.”

Nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi testified before Iran’s Majles that the 1929 missile provision only pertains to ballistic missiles “capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” noting that Iran’s conventional ballistic missiles arsenal, including the missile launched on October 11, are “completely different.” However, Araghchi failed to acknowledge that nuclear-capable and conventional ballistic missiles use much of the same technology. A special parliamentary commission in Iran charged with reviewing the JCPOA also failed to acknowledge the overlap.

On October 12, the Iranian parliament passed a bill affirming the prerogative of the Supreme National Security Council – controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – to take “necessary measures” to strengthen defensive capabilities and “re-evaluate” Tehran’s “voluntary cooperation” with the JCPOA. In so doing, Khamenei has sent a clear message that the Islamic Republic will decide which aspects of the nuclear deal it will honor and which it will not.

How Washington and the other members of the P5+1 address this first violation of the JCPOA will be a crucial test case for the successful implementation of the nuclear deal. Iran and the rest of the region will be watching.

Amir Toumaj is a research analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @AmirToumaj