Tehran Ignores White House Warnings to Defend Missile Program, Regional Activities

In the wake of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling upon the Islamic Republic to avoid tests of weapons such as ballistic missiles which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The resolution replaced another that expressed the same expectations in even stronger language. But since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, Iran has flouted both of those resolutions, conducting several ballistic missile tests including one that took place barely a week after President Donald Trump took his oath of office.

Within days of his speech praising Iran’s supposed commitment to engagement and cooperation, Rouhani made it clear that the country’s defiance over the ballistic missile issue would not diminish. Another Al Jazeera report quoted Rouhani as explicitly stating that missile tests would continue because “the Iranian nation has decided to be powerful.” He went on to say, “America’s dream on ending Iran’s missile program will never come true,” in a speech that also accused the United States of having inadequate knowledge of the Middle East and of following misguided policies in trying to confront Iran’s role in the region.

Rouhani’s reaffirmation of the country’s ballistic missile program follows upon measures by the Trump administration to impose new economic sanctions upon entities with alleged ties to that program. This in turn follows upon the imposition of sanctions on two dozen such entities in February, a few weeks after Iran’s January ballistic missile test and the subsequent White House statement putting Iran “on notice” over its destabilizing activities in the region.

Apart from Rouhani’s verbal disregard for the Trump administration’s requests and restrictive measures, Tehran has also responded with reciprocal sanctions, as the Associated Press reported on Saturday. The Iranian Foreign Ministry published a new sanctions list on Friday, which included nine additional names, equal to the number that had been targeted by the US with its new measures. Although this leaves little doubt about the retaliatory nature of the measure, Iran explained the sanctions as being related to human rights issues, on account the alleged relationships of the named individuals and groups to the state of Israel, which the Islamic Republic does not recognize as legitimate or as having a right to exist.

But this threatens to further encourage the current US government’s approach to Iran policy, which involves building partnerships with regional countries that feel threatened by the Islamic Republic’s growing imperialism and its contribution to sectarian tensions across the Middle East. President Trump was in Israel on Monday as part of his first overseas visit since assuming office. The previous day, he had been in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh for a summit of Arab and Muslim states, wherein he and other attendees focused attention upon the need to confront Iran over its role in the spread of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

In his speeches both to the Arab summit and to Israeli officials, Trump emphasized the importance of isolating and economically penalizing Iran in order to compel it to “cease funding, training, and equipping” terrorist groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Houthi militants attempting to take control of the nation of Yemen, just across the southern border of Iran’s leading rival, Saudi Arabia.

The Guardian also pointed out that in his speech on Monday, Trump pointed out that the Jewish state and some of its traditional Arab adversaries are beginning to find “common cause” in light of the mutual threats they face at the hands of Tehran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its foreign militant proxies.

Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia resulted in the signing of 380 billion dollars’ worth of deals, 110 billion of which was specifically devoted to arms sales. This comes after reports emerged last year indicating that Israel and Saudi Arabia were considering arms transfers and other forms of security cooperation as each sought to counter the Iranian threat at a time when there appeared to be little American leadership in this respect.

That situation has certainly changed with the transfer of power from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. The National Council of Resistance of Iran reported on Monday that US Senator John McCain had praised Trump’s visit to the Arab summit because it sent a strong message and served as an “important step forward” in the emerging effort to impede Tehran’s efforts to shame the affairs of the region in a way that is contrary to the interests of the US and its allies.

According to Reuters, Bahram Qassemi, the spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, accused the US of “reinvigorating terrorists” with his arrangement of new arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But Iran itself is widely recognized as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and its public criticisms of terrorism depend upon ascribing that term only to entities that are fighting against Iranian allies, while withholding it from all those that support Tehran’s interests.

At the same time that Iran is backing the Houthi in their fight against a democratically elected government, it is also helping to prop up the government of Bashar al-Assad in the midst of rebel efforts to unseat his dictatorship. Yet all of the latter rebel groups are described as terrorists in Iran’s public statements, while the Houthi are simultaneously described as victims of unlawful intrusion into the conflict by the Saudi-led Arab coalition that is supporting the government of President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi.

Iranian officials including the supposedly moderate President Rouhani have steadfastly defending the Assad regime even in the wake of widely publicized chemical weapons attacks. As the NCRI pointed out, Trump made reference to these and other incidents in his speech in Riyadh, describing Tehran as helping to facilitate “unspeakable crimes.” In recent weeks, the Syrian Civil War has become a notable backdrop for escalating tensions between Iran and the US, and thus an example of the Trump administration’s persistent assertiveness on Iran policy.

What’s more, Trump’s outreach to traditional US allies and his references to crisis like the Syrian War underscore the fact that his Iran policy is not only concerned with the Iranian regime itself but also with the impact that it continues to have on other enemies and potential enemies of the United States. And this issue is particularly relevant to the ballistic missile program that remains fully active following the reelection of an Iranian president who promises positive interactions with the world community.

Last week, The Tower reported that the latest North Korean ballistic missile test showed more advancement from that country than had previously been anticipated. The article went on to suggest that this may be indicative of the continuation of long-established collaboration between the North Korean dictatorship and the Islamic Republic of Iran. It points out, for instance, that a ballistic missile tested by Iran last summer was apparently an improvement upon North Korea’s Musudan missile.

It has also been reported that Iranian scientists have been on hand for North Korean missile tests, and this is only one piece of evidence suggesting that the exchange of missile technology and know-how has run in both directions between the two countries. The same may be true of nuclear warheads, which have already been obtained by North Korea and which many people believe are still being pursued by Iran’s leadership. Last month, the intelligence network of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran reported that the institutions in charge of the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear materials was still operating more than a year after the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal.