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US official: The administration would support sanctions legislation


U.S. State Department
U.S. State Department

Iran’s recent ballistic missile launches “violated the intent” of a United Nations resolution, a top State Department official said Tuesday, though he avoided calling the tests a violation of the resolution itself.
“I believe it violated the intent of [U.N. Security Council Resolution] 2231,” said Thomas Shannon, under secretary of State for political affairs.
 “Whether our international lawyers will say it violated 2231, this is why we use the word inconsistent. But from our point of view, these launches are prohibited, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop them.”
Shannon made his comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where senators from both parties questioned the U.S. not labeling the tests a violation and pledged to pursue sanctions against Iran.
Iran launched multiple ballistic missiles on back-to-back days in March. The tests infuriated Republicans and some Democrats, who said the move calls for a strong response from the United States.
Iran’s hardliners are doubling down on ballistic missiles after the nuclear deal, and as such, more launches are likely in the future, Shannon said.
An international response to the March launches via the United Nations Security Council has stalled because of an interpretation of the resolution at hand.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which was passed in July in support of the nuclear deal with Iran, says that, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
On Tuesday, senators in the Foreign Relations Committee said the interpretation is exactly what they feared would happen when the language of the resolution was being written.
Shannon’s testimony is “Exhibit A” in why there was concern about the nuclear agreement, said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Corker also said he was disappointed that a letter from the United States, Britain, France and Germany to Spanish U.N. Ambassador Román Oyarzun Marchesi and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon didn’t use the word "violation."
“We knew when the language said ‘called upon’ this situation would likely occur,” Corker said. “It has. It’s disappointing. I was disappointed that a letter from our European partners said it was ‘inconsistent’ and didn’t say it was a ‘violation.’ Obviously, there was some wordsmithing taking place.”
Sen. Ben Cardin  (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, said the ballistic missiles should be a “relatively easy” issue.
“On ballistic missiles, it seems to me this is a relatively easy matter working with the administration to have a statutory framework that goes beyond any one administration to make it clear we are going to take action against Iran,” Cardin said.
Corker and Cardin said they are working on legislation to sanction Iran in response to the tests and other destabilizing actions.
The administration would support sanctions legislation, Shannon said, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the nuclear deal.
“Our only concern is that it not interfere with JCPOA implementation or that it not give Iran any excuse to walk away from the table,” Shannon said, using an abbreviation for the official name of the nuclear deal.
That position drew rebuke from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who said it walks back previous comments from the administration that Congress could pursue action against Iran outside of its nuclear portfolio.
“I see all of the cautionary remarks all of the time — I see all these caveats — I don’t understand them,” he said. “What bothers me is we seem to create a permissive environment that is exemplified in the ballistic missile issues that have been raised.”
Shannon clarified that he didn’t mean Congress could not act against the ballistic missile tests.
“My purpose wasn’t to say that are walking on eggshells with the Iranians," he said.
"My purpose was not to say that we are somehow pulling punches or somehow stepping away from pursuit of JCPOA commitments or, as you noted, broader understandings of concerns about Iran. That’s not the case. We just want to make sure that as Iran meets its commitments, we meet our commitments.”


Source: THE HILL, April 5