On January 29, 2017, Iran test-fired the Shahab, a medium-range ballistic missile that may be a violation of a United National Security Council (UNSC) resolution. Following confirmation of the ballistic missile test, during the daily White House press briefing, U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said the White House was putting Iran “on notice” but did not specify what actions the United States is considering in response to the test.
During a not-for-attribution briefing yesterday, senior administration officials offered clarifying remarks distinguishing between Iran’s ballistic missile program and the nuclear agreement with Iran (known as the JCPOA).
These officials said that the ballistic missile tests are completely separate from the JCPOA and in no way represent a violation of the agreement. During the briefing, a senior Administration official stated that “these missile concerns are separate and apart from the JCPOA.”
The unidentified official added: “The JCPOA focuses squarely on closing off all of Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. And Iran’s ballistic missile launches are not a violation of that JCPOA.”
When asked to clarify if the missile test represents a violation of the JCPOA, the official stated, “Absolutely not.”
The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation agrees that Iran’s test is not in violation of the JCPOA and also notes the considerable nonproliferation benefits provided by Iran’s compliance with the restrictions and verification obligations under the agreement.
While criticizing other Iranian behavior, the official confirmed that all parties, including Iran, are abiding by the nuclear agreement, “The fact that the JCPOA exists and the parties are abiding by it [emphasis added] does not mean that the Iranians are free to pursue other behavior in the region that is inherently destabilizing, separate and distinct from the aspects of their nuclear program.”
There is a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution (2231) that addresses Iran’s missile activity, and it is not yet clear how this latest test comports with that resolution, but while this test can be considered bad behavior, it was not a violation of the nuclear agreement. A separate process is designed for dealing with missile launches and the UNSC is currently investigating the test.