Iran says missile test not related to nuclear deal, France voices concern

Iran: Zarif calls UN to take part in war against terrorism
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iran’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that the Iranian missile program is not part of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, refusing to comment on Iran’s latest ballistic missile test while France voices concern about this incident.

Barack Obama, The former US leader, was behind the historic Iran nuclear deal with P5+1 powers, agreed upon last year, which saw Tehran agree to amend its nuclear output in order to lift all nuclear-related economic sanctions, freeing up tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue and frozen assets.

Iran is the subject of a United Nations Security Council resolution prohibiting tests of ballistic missiles designed to deliver a nuclear warhead. As part of the 2015 nuclear deal, the U.N. ban was prolonged by eight years, although Iran has flaunted the restriction.

However, Donald Trump has said during his election campaign that the deal as “disastrous” and said it would be his “number one priority” to dismantle it.

These threats became clearer after Trump’s inauguration, as he signed an executive order temporarily barring thousands from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Iran, from obtaining visas to travel to the United States.

In a clear challenge, a ballistic missile test was conducted by Iran on Sunday.

A U.S. defense official said that the missile test ended with a “failed” re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. The official, speaking to The Associated Press, had no other details, including the type of missile. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The last time this type of missile was test launched was in July 2016.

Not related to the Nuclear Deal

During a joint news conference with visiting French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was asked if Iran had conducted a recent missile test.

“The missile issue is not part of the nuclear deal. As all signatories to the nuclear deal have announced, the missile issue is not a part of” the deal, he said.

Iran’s missiles, he added, are “not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead … Our ballistic missile was designed to carry a normal warhead in the field of legitimate defense.”

Zarif said he hopes the issue is not used as “an excuse for some political games by the new U.S. administration. The Iranian people would never allow their defense to be subject to the permission of others.”

Zarif has said its ballistic missile launches are not banned under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 because the prohibition applies only to missiles specifically designed to carry nuclear warheads. Iran has long argued that general missile tests are not banned, nor are those applying to ones capable of carrying nuclear warheads — so long as that was not their designated purpose.

Iran has long boasted of having missiles that can travel 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles), placing much of the Middle East, including Israel, in range. Iran says its missiles are key to deterring a U.S. or Israeli attack.

Emergency session of UN security council

The UN Security Council held an emergency session requested by the United States on Tuesday to discuss the test.

The U.S., which still maintains its own set of sanctions against Iran, has argued that previous ballistic missile launches are in defiance of the ban.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the world should be “alarmed” at the Iranian test and the council should take action.

Haley called the medium-range ballistic missile test “absolutely unacceptable” and said Iran is “being naive” by thinking the U.S. and others accept its contention that it has no intention of attacking any country.

“I will tell the people across the world that is something we should be alarmed about,” she said. “The United States is not naive. We are not going to stand by. You will see us call them out as we said we would, and you’re also gonna see us act accordingly.”

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said the Security Council decided to refer the test to its committee dealing with Iranian issues and asked for an investigation. This is the same procedure the council has carried out with previous Iranian missile tests.

The European Union called on Tehran to “refrain from activities which deepen mistrust.” EU foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said a ballistic missile test would not violate the nuclear deal with world powers, but added that it was “inconsistent” with Resolution 2231.

“Whether it constitutes a violation is for the Security Council to determine,” she said.

France voices concern

Speaking in Tehran, France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Paris had voiced its concerns over the test, and that such firings are “contrary to the spirit” of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and “hamper the process of restoring confidence established by the Vienna agreement”.

The timing of the test was embarrassing for Ayrault, who was in Tehran to reassure Iranian officials that Paris will uphold the nuclear deal after the latest statements by Trump.

The French visit was planned to participate in a session of Iran-France joint economic commission, which is slated to be held with the participation of the two countries’ officials. Some 50 French firms are said to participate in the forum on Tuesday.

Ayrault said it was in the “common interest” that the 2015 accord under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for lifted sanctions was obeyed.

“I’m coming as the defender of the accord, but to be vigilant and explain that they (the Iranians) must be irreproachable,” Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters after landing in Tehran.

“We harbor real concerns about the U.S. administration’s attitude towards this agreement,” he said.

Ayrault added it was imperative the Iran abide strictly by the conditions of the accord. He said it was in the “common interest” that all sides heeded the deal.

“This deal has to be rigorously kept to,” Ayrault said. “I want this deal to last and that no badly chosen initiatives are taken that could put the accord in jeopardy.”

During Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s historic visit to Paris in January last year, Iran and France signed a series of basic trade deals worth billions of dollars.

Ayrault said trade between the two countries had surged by 200 percent since the July 2015 deal.

Major French corporations including planemaker Airbus (AIR.PA), oil major Total (TOTF.PA) and car companies Peugeot (PEUP.PA) and Renault (RENA.PA) have all signed contracts.

The French company Total signed a deal to further develop Iran’s part of the world’s largest gas field and avoided the US sanctions by financing the deal with euros, reflecting France’s interest in investing in the growing Iranian market despite the US’s threats.

Ayrault added that a deal between Turboprop maker ATR with IranAir for the sale of at least 20 aircraft was “practically sealed”, and that a contract with construction group Vinci (SGEF.PA) for two regional airports was also making progress.

However, Despite the sanction relief, including on banking restrictions, Iran continues to struggle to access Western finance, partly due to banks’ fears about penalties related to remaining U.S. sanctions.

Ayrault also sought to reassure Zarif over the potential return to Iran of major Western banks, which have hesitated for fear of possible U.S. fines if they do business with Iran.

“Some banks are reticent, but we are working on this,” Ayrault said.