WASHINGTON D.C. - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday evening expressing support for his administration's plans to place new sanctions on Iran in light of its ballistic missile experiment conducted over the weekend. The administration plans to unveil new measures against Iran on Friday, which will target more than two dozen Iranian entities, yet will most likely not violate the terms of the landmark nuclear accord signed between Iran and world powers in 2015.
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In the letter published on Thursday, the senators wrote to Trump that they are "concerned by reports that Iran conducted a ballistic missile test on January 29, 2017. If it is confirmed, Iran will have again violated both the letter and the spirit of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology."
The accusation that Iran violated the nuclear accord was also made by Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn at a White House press briefing earlier this week. Flynn also used the occasion to say that Iran was "officially on notice" following the incident, and that the Trump administration was going to tackle Iran's destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East. The Russian government, however, put out a statement saying it did not consider Iran's test a violation of the resolution.
The senators also wrote Trump that "Iranian leaders must feel sufficient pressure to cease deeply destabilizing activities, from sponsoring terrorist groups to continued testing of ballistic missiles. Full enforcement of existing sanctions and the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missiles program are necessary." The bipartisan group also applauded the administration for calling an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the matter. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also said on Thursday that he would support additional sanctions on Iran, saying that "the last administration appeased Iran too much."
The letter was signed by 22 senators, including Senator Bob Corker (R-TN,) who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) who is a Ranking Member of the committee. Eight of the Senators who signed the letter voted in 2015 in favor of the nuclear deal with Iran, including Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who was Hillary Clinton's running mate in the last elections. The nuclear deal wasn't mentioned in the letter. During his election campaign, Trump and some of his top surrogates floated the idea of cancelling the deal. In a phone call with King Salman of Saudi Arabia last week, however, Trump referred to monitoring it instead.
Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think-tank that strongly opposed the nuclear deal, told Haaretz that "the United States' Iran policy entered a state of policy paralysis since the Iran nuclear negotiations and the nuclear deal, when the Obama administration refused to push back against Iran's malign activities. This week's warnings from President Trump and National Security Advisor Flynn signal a dramatic shift. These upcoming missile and terrorism designations are a signal to the Iranians, Europeans, Israelis and the Gulf Arabs that this shift is now underway."
The National Iranian American Council, an organization that worked to support the nuclear deal, put out a statement warning that Flynn's comments were "reckless" and that a cycle of escalation between the U.S. and Iran "may end in war." The statement added that "Iran’s missile test was also a needless provocation, particularly given the impulsiveness already on display in the Trump administration. However, it is important to note that Iran's missile test is not a clear-cut violation of the current UN Security Council Resolution on Iran, and Iran’s nuclear pathways have been blocked thanks to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."