US Responds To Iranian Missile Test With Threats, Sanctions

Following an Iranian ballistic missile test, US President Donald Trump’s administration threatened that it was “officially putting Iran on notice.” The US Treasury has since issued a round of sanctions against Iran, even as the international community expresses fears of escalating tensions.

On Sunday, January 29th Iran conducted a medium-range ballistic missile test. The missile, which officials labeled as non-nuclear, reportedly exploded after 1,010 kilometers. Following speculation by the US security apparatus and others about the nature of the test over the following days, on Wednesday, February 1st Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif confirmed that the test had taken place but stated that the missile in question was “not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead.”

Following Zarif’s statement, US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn denounced the Iranian missile test and threatened that the Trump administration was “officially putting Iran on notice.” President Trump himself has been a vocal critic of the multinational nuclear deal under which Iranian nuclear programs are currently regulated, having referred to it as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan argued that “the [missile] test did not violate the nuclear deal or the [supporting UN] resolution 2231.” Meanwhile, 220 members of the Iranian parliament issued a statement of support for the test program, saying that missile systems are a necessary deterrent to enemy hostility and are permissible under the nuclear deal. Ali Shamkhani, head of Iran’s National Security Council, further asserted that Iran doesn’t need “permission from any country or international organization for [the] development of… conventional defensive capability.”

These tensions were met with both criticism and apprehension by the international community. The European Union called for Iran to “refrain from activities which deepen mistrust” and EU foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali described the test as “inconsistent” with the UN resolution. Yet international discomfort was not exclusively aimed at Iran; many in the international community also saw danger in President Trump’s actions. French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault noted that France “harbour[s] real concerns about the US administration’s attitude towards [the nuclear] agreement”, while Iran’s Zarif expressed hope that the test doesn’t get “used by the new US administration… as a pretext to create new tensions.”

Following President Trump’s earlier threat to “officially [put] Iran on notice”, the US Treasury Department announced on Friday, February 3rd a new round of sanctions against 25 Iranian people and groups. The sanctions are a response to the missile test as well as Iran’s support of groups labeled terrorists by the US. According to Advisor Flynn, “the days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.” A Treasury Department press release notes that the sanctions will target “entities and individuals involved in procuring technology and/or materials to support Iran’s ballistic missile program.” Iran has since responded with counter-sanctions against the US.

Because of the limited diplomatic options available due to the strained bilateral relations between Tehran and Washington, President Trump will have limited options for a response if Iran continues its ballistic missile tests. This has prompted some international spectators to fear an escalation of tensions to potentially dangerous levels.

Brian Contreras