US and Russia sharply divided over Iran missile tests

The US said the tests merit a response from the Security Council, but Russia's contention that the launches did not violate a UN resolution all but rule out any council action.

Mahmood Hosseini/Reuters
A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location in Iran on March 9.

The United States insisted Monday that Iran's test-firing of two ballistic missiles last week was in defiance of a UN resolution, but Russia said the launches were not a violation.

At issue is a Security Council resolution adopted after the Iran nuclear deal was signed last year calling for Iran not to launch any ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

The United States called a council meeting to protest the launches, which US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday called a violation of UN resolutions that "could invite additional sanctions."

US Ambassador Samantha Power said after Monday's closed meeting that the ballistic missiles "were designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons" and called the launches "dangerous, destabilizing, and provocative."

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that Moscow has no information that the missiles could carry nuclear weapons and there was no violation of the resolution.

"A call is different from a ban so legally you cannot violate a call, you can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call," Mr. Churkin said. "The legal distinction is there."

Iran's UN Mission said in a statement Monday that the country "has never sought to acquire nuclear weapons and never will in the future." It said the missile tests "were part of ongoing efforts of its armed forces to strengthen its legitimate defense capabilities ... against security threats."

Ms. Power said the missile tests merit a response from the Security Council, but Russia's contention that the launches did not violate resolution 2231, all but rule out any council action.

Power said the United States will put forward technical information that Iran has made public "showing that the technology they used is inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons and thus inherently defying resolution 2231."

"So we're not going to give up at the Security Council, no matter the quibbling that we heard today about this and that," she said.

Churkin said he did not hear any objection from other members to his statement toward the end of the closed council meeting that the nuclear agreement was a totally separate issue, and "there is no legal violation of 2231."

Some council members raised the impact of the launches on stability and security in the region.

Before the council meeting, Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon spoke to reporters about the threat to wipe Israel off the earth which was written on one of the missiles saying: "If on it was written that England, France, Japan, or any other country, must be removed from the earth, would the Security Council sit silently?"

He warned that "ignoring Iran's violations will give a green light for continuing nuclear missile tests."

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