Nuclear Accord Frays as Iran Is Poised to Quit over Missile Tests
The ballistic missile tests Iran staged ostentatiously on March 8 and 9 provoked outrage in both US Houses of Congress. Sen. Ben Cardin, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said angrily: “The Administration should act swiftly to raise these concerns at the United Nations and take action to hold all parties involved responsible for their actions, including, if necessary, through unilateral action."
Tehran gloatingly announced two rounds of ballistic nuclear tests. The second included missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers that could reach Israel and were inscribed with the slogan, “Israel must be wiped off the Earth” in Hebrew characters.
The White House immediately promised to raise the missile tests at the Security Council as soon as they were confirmed.
The administration was guided by considerations of its own, say DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Washington. Security Council proceedings would be useful for holding in abeyance a major sanctions initiative floated by a large group of senators and congressmen – and ready to go. The administration needs it to be delayed.
A senior source on Capitol Hill told DEBKA Weekly that President Barack Obama respects the sanctions proposal as more than just a Republican maneuver to block his Iran policy, but a serious bipartisan effort backed by some of the most senior Democrats. It will therefore be very hard to squash.
Obama is particularly concerned by a clause that would expand the sanctions from Tehran to foreign companies violating them – namely, all the international banks and companies from countries such as France, Japan, Italy and Britain, which rushed to cash in on the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear deal. They would be obliged to cancel huge contracts, some already signed.
This would re-impose the sanctions that were lifted five months ago, after Iran signed the international deal to curb its nuclear program.
That deal is under threat of unraveling from another direction too.
Alluding to potential new economic sanctions resulting from the missile tests, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqshi warned Wednesday, March 9, that Tehran may walk away from the nuclear deal if the Islamic Republic’s “national interests” were not respected. “If our interests are not met under the nuclear deal, there will be no reason for us to continue,” he said.
Some Capitol Hill circles say the clause is intended to punish Iran for acting against US interests: Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered American companies to be excluded from the bidding for new post-sanctions projects in Iran.
At the same time, Obama can’t openly oppose this clause in the House and Senate, when economic relations with foreign countries and loss of American markets are hot-button issues in the current US presidential campaign.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, after working hard to bring the nuclear deal to fruition, has his back against the wall on two scores:
1. His reformist supporters failed to carry last month’s elections to Iran’s parliament and the powerful Assembly of Experts, disappointing hopes in the West for the radical regime to acquire a more liberal face. To cover his embarrassment, Rouhani embellished the election results by presenting a third of the winning Majlis candidates as “reformists” – which is far from the truth.
2. Rouhani is hard put to explain why Iran continues to test and develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles when he promised US Secretary of State John Kerry that the tests will be stopped.
Washington takes in to account that the tests are part and parcel of political infighting in Tehran and a Revolutionary Guards step to undermine Rouhani’s international credibility. Yet Iran’s flagrant violation of its solemn nuclear accord with six world powers cannot be easily dismissed.
US Vice President Joe Biden was challenged about the display of Iranian missiles pointed at Israel at his meeting Wednesday, March 9, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. He answered that if Washington finds Tehran in violation of the nuclear agreement, “we will act”.
It remains to be seen whether the US does undertake meaningful punitive measures against Iran’s blatant violation of UN resolutions and the nuclear deal before Obama leaves office