Iran on Saturday launched a ballistic missile that can deliver nukes — and the near-complete silence of the media aside, it’s a big deal. The latest test revealed, once more, the flaws in the Iranian nuclear deal and the confusion of our European allies, who are alarmed by the mullahs’ behavior but fear losing the deal that enables it.
“The Iranian regime has just test-fired a medium range ballistic missile that’s capable of carrying multiple warheads,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Sunday, adding: “This test violates UNSCR 2231” — the United Nations Security Council resolution that made the nuclear deal international law.
One problem for Pompeo and President Trump is that their predecessors settled for a watered-down UN resolution on Iranian missile tests. Desperate to get to a “Yes,” President Obama agreed that the council will merely “call upon” Tehran to please, please, pretty-please not test.
And here we are.
While Tehran hasn’t confirmed the launch, the regime insists it has the right to test missiles for its national defense. France and Britain convened the Security Council Tuesday to discuss what Europeans pointedly refuse to call an Iranian violation but admit is “inconsistent” with the resolution.
America’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, called for a unanimous condemnation. But don’t hold your breath. The council plans no action, and even if it meets again, several diplomats tell me, it can’t unite behind even a mild rebuke.
This, even though the launched missile could reach Israel, Egypt and Southern Europe. As Brian Hook, Trump’s senior adviser on Iran, told reporters in Brussels Monday, “we have been warning the world for some time that we are accumulating risk of a regional conflict if we do not deter Iran’s missile testing and proliferation.”
Europe’s position is far less clear. Missile tests may “flaunt” the council’s collective will, as Britain’s UN ambassador, Karen Pierce, said Tuesday, which is why she and her French colleagues called for the council meeting. At the same time, Europeans worry that added pressure on Iran may unravel a nuclear deal already damaged by Trump’s withdrawal.
So rather than punish Iran, the European Union instead actively seeks to circumvent American sanctions, even to attempting to establish a special-payment channel that allows for financial transactions with the mullahs.
For supporters of the deal in European capitals, what really matters is that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are on the case. The agency continues to affirm that Iran is meticulously sticking by council demands in the nuclear field.
But even Tehran’s nuclear compliance is now in doubt. The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security recently published a report on thousands of documents Israeli spies stole from a Tehran nuclear archive. The institute concluded that Iran’s nuclear program was much more advanced than anyone knew.
But “there is no visible indication that the IAEA is yet acting on the new information” from the Israelis, says the institute.
It’s “hard to fathom why the IAEA, the agency tasked with monitoring and verification, has yet to engage with material from Iran’s nuclear archive,” says Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran watcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who has translated some of the documents. “The only beneficiary of this inaction is Iran,” he says.
To date, the IAEA has declined to demand entry to the Tehran site that was raided by Israel — or any other location the Iranians will likely deny access to.
So what happened to the nuclear-deal supporters’ mantra? They vowed that the deal would allow unprecedented access and facilitate vigorous inspections of all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. So much for that.
To preserve the deal, its promoters always err on the lenient side. So Iran forever pushes the envelope and receives only mild knuckle raps. For all their harrumphing about the recent missile launch, the Europeans are more angry with Trump for walking away from the deal than they are with Iran.
To paraphrase a 2016 campaign line, Iran can violate the deal in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing any of its enablers.
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