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US says Iran is ‘saturating’ Middle East with missiles

What happened: The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft told the UN Security Council yesterday that: “Iran continues to saturate the Middle East with arms, in violation of Resolution 2231.”

  • The Security Council discussed Iranian compliance with the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, UNSC Resolution 2231 and Iran’s destabilising role in the region. UN Security Council Resolution 2231 requires Iran not to “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”
  • Ambassador Craft highlighted Iran’s most recent attempt to arm regional proxies when last month the US intercepted a shipment of advanced Iranian weapons heading for the Houthis in Yemen.  Craft said it contained “sophisticated components of anti-ship cruise missiles, land attack cruise missiles, air defence missiles, UAV components, and anti-tank missiles.”  Adding, “Just one of these missiles could spark a regional confrontation none of us want…..We will not sit idly by while Iran continues to destabilise the region.”  Craft also said the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps(IRGC) has provided drones and explosives to Syria.  Craft appealed to the Council saying, “This provocative act must be condemned by all nations, regardless of your stance on the nuclear deal. The Council must hold Iran accountable.”
  • The UN Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo criticised both the US and Iran for undermining regional stability saying the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 “are crucial to nuclear non-proliferation as well as regional and international security…We therefore regret the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA in May 2018 and the recent steps taken by Iran to reduce its nuclear-related commitments under the plan.”
  • The UK Ambassador to the UN, Dame Karen Pierce said: “The JCPOA is critical to the wider global nonproliferation architecture, and it’s vital for our national security and the shared security of our partners and allies. We believe it is the best means to avert a nuclear armed Iran…We deeply regret Iran’s decision to reduce compliance with the JCPOA…Iran’s actions are extremely serious. They are hollowing out the nonproliferation benefits of the nuclear deal and are not all reversible….Iran faces a stark choice: continue down this damaging path or take immediate steps back into compliance and rebuild international confidence.
  • Ambassador Pierce accused Iran of developing technology capable of serving as a means of delivery for a nuclear weapon. She called Iranian regional activity, “reckless and destabilising and said: “Iran has also transferred missiles to a number of armed groups in violation of several Council resolutions.”  She concluded by urging “Iran not to undertake any more actions that would take her further beyond JCPOA limits and instead to work closely and in good faith with other participants to implement its commitments fully and to help reduce escalating tensions in this region of the world.”

Context: The US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure” to constrain Iranian nuclear and military activities.
The other signatories to the deal, including the UK, have since worked to preserve the agreement, even as Iran has begun to deliberately violate it.

  • The UK, France and Germany (the so-called E3) have gradually been shifting towards the US position as Iran has violated the restrictions in the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal that limit uranium enrichment, use of advanced centrifuges, uranium stockpiles and use of the enrichment facility at Fordow. In September the E3 said: “The time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear programme as well as on issues related to regional security, including its missiles programme and other means of delivery.”

Looking ahead: The new UK government may now take a tougher approach towards Iran, initiating action at the UN against its missile programme and considering what further action it can take Iran such as targeted sanctions and even proscribing the IRGC Quds force as a terrorist organisation.

  • The US is likely to continue to increase its sanctions on Iran as part of its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.

Iran meanwhile will pursue a strategy to apply more pressure on the remaining signatories of the JCPOA to facilitate trade to assist the Iranian economy which is struggling under US sanctions but is unlikely to hold talks with the US until after the November 2020 US Presidential election.