Pressure to Address Iran's Missile Program and Arms Exports Intensifies

December 22, 2017

Publication Type: 

  • Policy Briefs

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile
  • Military

Mentioned Suspect Entities & Suppliers: 

Author: 

Valerie Lincy

Events over the past week have created mounting pressure to address Iran's ballistic missile program and its missile and arms exports. On December 19, Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen fired another short-range ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia. This marked the third such attack since July and followed revelations by the United States and the United Nations that these missiles appear to be of Iranian origin. In response to these and other alleged violations of U.N. resolutions, the United States is pressing for punitive action at the United Nations.

U.S. Displays Recovered Missile Parts from Iran

In a dramatic press conference at a military base in Washington D.C. on December 14, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley revealed evidence that two missiles fired into Saudi Arabia were made in Iran and then sent to the Houthis. She presented this evidence while standing in front of a missile reconstituted from parts recovered in Saudi Arabia.[1]

Pointing to the absence of planar fins and the arrangement of nine valves along the length of the missile, Haley identified it as Iran's Qiam. (The missile is called the Burkan-2H by the Houthis). The Qiam is an Iranian variant of the Scud missile, with distinctive features such as those highlighted by Haley. The recovered parts of the missile body are made of aluminum rather than steel, also a feature of the Qiam.[2] The logo and/or name of well-known Iranian missile developers, including Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group (SBIG) and Shahid Hemat Industrial Group (SHIG), appear on recovered parts used for missile guidance, according to high resolution images released by the U.S. government. Both SHIG and SBIG were sanctioned by the United Nations in December 2006 for their role in Iran's ballistic missile program and remain subject to U.N. sanctions pursuant to Security Council resolution 2231.[3]

Alongside these missile parts, the United States displayed material from an anti-tank guided missile, an unmanned aerial vehicle, and an explosive boat, all of which Haley claimed to have been made in Iran and provided to the Houthis. She concluded that Iran is "in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions" and that "the nuclear deal has done nothing to moderate the regime's conduct in other areas."[4] Dozens of high definition photographs of missile and other parts released by the U.S. government are available here.[5]

Ambassador Haley invited all Security Council members to visit the military base and view the missile parts, along with other Iranian-origin military hardware sent to Yemen. She noted that the United States had supported a United Nations investigation of alleged Iranian violations of resolution 2231 by declassifying evidence of such violations, like the items on display at the base.

U.N. Report Reinforces U.S. Findings

On the same day as Haley's press conference, the United Nations released its fourth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear agreement with Iran and imposed restrictions on Iran's missile and military programs.[6] This report, issued by the U.N. Secretary General, echoed, in more measured terms, many of the U.S. government's findings. Following an examination by U.N. experts of the missile debris recovered by Saudi Arabia from the July and early November attacks, the report concluded that "the diameter of both missiles was consistent with that of the Scud family" and that the missiles "had similar structural and manufacturing features," suggesting a "common origin."[7] According to the report, U.N. experts also noted that "remnants of mounting plates" from the July missile "suggest that the missile was finless" and that three actuators used for guidance "bore the castings of a logo similar to that of the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group."[8]

The United Nations still is investigating the origin of the missile debris but recommended that the Security Council receive a joint briefing "by the Panel of Experts on Yemen and the Secretariat on their respective findings" related to the "possible transfer" of ballistic missiles or missile parts from Iran to the Houthis.[9] The Secretariat has taken over the investigative role on Iran and the implementation of resolution 2231; the dedicated Panel of Experts for Iran was dissolved following the implementation of the nuclear agreement.

In addition, U.N. experts were able to examine arms seized by the United States in March 2016 in the Gulf of Oman. The Secretary General's report concluded that Iran was the source of this shipment, the second such arms shipment from Iran interdicted that month.[10]

The report described other apparent violations of resolution 2231, including provisions imposing an asset freeze and travel ban against specific Iranian entities. The Defense Industries Organization (DIO), which is subject to the U.N. asset freeze, exhibited at an aerospace trade fair held in Zhukovsky, Russia in July 2017. This is the third time that DIO has participated in a foreign defense-related fair since the nuclear agreement was implemented, according to the United Nations. In March 2016[11] and March 2017[12], DIO was an exhibitor at the Iraqi Defense, Security, and Military Exposition (IQDEX). In these instances, a lack of consensus at the Security Council has prevented any response. In the most recent case, Russia claimed that no violation of resolution 2231 was committed because DIO did not pay a fee to exhibit and used only mock-ups in its display.[13]

Similarly, the U.N. report once again documented instances of foreign travel by Major General Qasem Soleimani, who is subject to a U.N. asset freeze and travel ban. According to the report, he has been seen visiting Iraq and Syria on a number of occasions since June.[14] Soleimani heads the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force (IRGC-QF), which supports terrorist groups across the Middle East and Africa and has sent arms and fighters to conflict zones in these regions.

In addition, the U.N. received information about an individual who "may be acting in support of a designated entity," as well as another designated entity that may be using subsidiaries in order to circumvent the asset freeze provisions of resolution 2231. In response to these allegations, the U.N. report recommends that the Security Council "review and update" its list of entities "to ensure proper implementation of the asset freeze and travel ban provisions."[15]

What Next?

The United States is demanding punitive action by the United Nations in response to "Iran's lack of full compliance with resolution 2231" and as a means of arresting "Iran's destabilizing behavior."[16] In remarks at a Security Council briefing on December 19, Haley put forward several options: strengthen the provisions of resolution 2231 or adopt a new resolution to clearly prohibit Iran from pursuing "all activities related to ballistic missiles"; impose sanctions on Iran for its violations of the arms embargo on Yemen; or target the IRGC "for its violations of numerous Security Council resolutions." She concluded that unless such action is taken, "Iran will bring the world deeper into a broadening regional conflict."[17]

In her remarks, Haley was careful to address the concerns of countries committed to the nuclear agreement and worried that additional sanctions would undermine it. She acknowledged that "while the JCPOA itself was not intended to directly address Iran's non-nuclear behavior, we must all recognize that resolution 2231 does address such behavior." As with the nuclear agreement, Haley argued, "the international community must also demand full implementation of resolution 2231."[18]

This did not satisfy Russia, whose deputy U.N. ambassador reportedly rejected "the language of threats and sanctions" by the United States and criticized the United Nations for its investigative work, undertaken without "the authority nor the expertise."[19]

France, however, appears ready to increase the pressure against Iran's missile program and its destabilizing regional activity. Speaking to the press during a visit to Washington D.C. on December 19, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated French concerns about "Iran's hegemonic temptations in the region," as well as "the development of an increasingly significant ballistic capability."[20] He warned that additional sanctions were possible in response. And in remarks the same day at the United Nations, French Ambassador Fran├žois Delattre said that "France is increasingly concerned by Iran’s violations of Resolution 2231 - I’m thinking of arms transfers - as well as its actions inconsistent with Resolution 2231 - I’m thinking here of its ballistic missile program."[21]

The coalition of countries that negotiated the nuclear agreement with Iran is divided on how – and even whether – to address Iran's missile program and its role in regional destabilization, including activities that appear to violate Security Council resolutions. Russia opposes further action. Europe appears divided; France and the United Kingdom have spoken out at the United Nations about the need to address violations and inconsistencies in the implementation of resolution 2231; other European countries remain focused on protecting the nuclear agreement. Meanwhile, continued U.S. commitment to the agreement is uncertain. The Trump administration did not issue a favorable certification to Congress in October and must decide once again next month whether to waive sanctions as required by the agreement. The result of this division and uncertainty may be an expansion of the numerous non-nuclear threats posed by Iran, as well as the unraveling of the nuclear agreement.

Footnotes: 

[1] Nikki Haley, “Remarks at a Press Conference on Iranian Arms Exports,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations, December 14, 2017, available at https://usun.state.gov/remarks/8215.

[2] Colum Lynch, "U.N. Panel Finds Evidence of Iranian Hardware in Yemeni Rebels’ Missile. And American." Foreign Policy, December 8, 2017, available at http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/12/08/u-n-panel-finds-evidence-of-iranian-hardware-in-yemeni-rebels-missile-and-american-middle-east-iran-saudi-arabia-human-rights-blockade-white-house/.

[3] The List established and maintained pursuant to Security Council res. 2231 (2015), United Nations, accessed on December 21, 2017, available at https://scsanctions.un.org/en/?keywords=iran.

[4] Nikki Haley, “Remarks at a Press Conference on Iranian Arms Exports,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations, December 14, 2017, available at https://usun.state.gov/remarks/8215.

[5] “Evidence Shows Iranian Weapons Proliferation,” Defense Video Image Distribution System, December 12, 2017, available at https://www.dvidshub.net/image/4029999/evidence-shows-iranian-weapons-proliferation.

[6] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[7] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, p. 6, para. 29, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[8] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, p. 6, para. 29, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[9] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, p. 3, para. 10, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[10] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, p. 2, para. 11, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[11] Second report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 30, 2016, p. 4, paras. 221-226, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/unsyg-secondreporton2231.pdf.

[12] Third report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, June 20, 2017, p. 8, para. 38, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/unsyg-thirdreporton2231-170620.pdf.

[13] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, pp. 8-9, paras. 36-38, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[14] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, p. 9, paras. 39-42, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[15] Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), United Nations, December 8, 2017, p. 3, para. 14, available at http://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/20171512-unscr2231-fourthreportofsecgen.pdf.

[16] Nikki Haley, “Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Iran,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations, December 19, 2017, available at https://usun.state.gov/remarks/8227.

[17] Nikki Haley, “Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Iran,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations, December 19, 2017, available at https://usun.state.gov/remarks/8227.

[18] Nikki Haley, “Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Iran,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations, December 19, 2017, available at https://usun.state.gov/remarks/8227.

[19] Edith M. Lederer, “US urges UN to punish Iran, but Russia says no sanctions,” Associated Press, December 19, 2017, available at https://apnews.com/dff67bf44cb44bf0b819fffc5777badb.

[20] “France, U.S. 'determined' to up pressure on Iran over ballistic weapons,” Reuters, December 19, 2017, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-france/france-u-s-determined-to-up-pressure-on-iran-over-ballistic-weapons-idUSKBN1ED0ZV.

[21] “Iran - Remarks to the press by Mr. Fran├žois Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations,” Permanent mission of France to the United Nations in New York, December 19, 2017, available at https://onu.delegfrance.org/Iran-has-not-violated-its-nuclear-commitments.