White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest's Comments on Iranian Ballistic Missile Test (Excerpts)

October 13, 2015

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile


Q:    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to get your response to Iranian ballistic missile testing over the weekend, which appears to be in violation of the U.N. ban against their using ballistic missiles.  The Defense Minister said that Iran would not ask permission to strengthen its defense and missile capabilities.  What’s the U.S. response?  And how does that bode for Iran’s capability to hold up its end of the agreement and the Iran nuclear agreement?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, first of all, the missile tests that we did see over the weekend are -- we’ve got strong indications that those missile tests did violate a U.N. Security Council resolution that pertain to Iran’s ballistic missile activities.  Unfortunately, that’s not new.  We have seen Iran on -- almost serially violate the international community’s concerns about their ballistic missile program.  And the U.N. Security Council resolution actually gives the international community some tools to interdict some equipment and material that could be used to advance their ballistic missile program, and gives us the ability to work in concert with our partners around the world to engage a strategy to try to disrupt continued progress of their ballistic missile program.

But this is altogether separate from the nuclear agreement that Iran reached with the rest of the world.  In contrast to the repeated violations of the U.N. Security Council resolution that pertains to their ballistic missile activities, we’ve seen that Iran over the last couple of years has demonstrated a track record of abiding by the commitments that they’ve made in the context of the nuclear talks.  And there was a lot of skepticism.  Remember, even two or three years ago in the early stages of the nuclear talks, many critics of the administration said that engaging in these kinds of talks would be counterproductive because there was no way that Iran would abide by the commitments that they made.  And, in fact, Iran had previously used the cover of talks to make progress on their nuclear program.

But over the last two or three years, we have seen Iran live up to some very tough standards when it comes to limiting their nuclear program.  And that said, we have been saying all along that the nuclear agreement that Iran reached with the rest of the world will not be predicated on trust, but it will be predicated on the most robust, intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.  

So we will be able to verify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement.  And if they don’t, there is a very specified set of responses that can be implemented to respond to those violations.  So that’s the approach that we have taken thus far.  It does hold the potential of us succeeding in expanding the breakout period for Iran, preventing them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And in fact, if Iran does verifiably uphold the terms of this agreement, it would do more to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon than even a military strike would.  And that is why the President has pursued this course, and it’s one that we will seek to implement, consistent with the agreement that was reached a couple of months ago.


Q:    And I wanted to ask about the Iran deal.  It was I guess approved by the Iranian parliament.  First, do you have any reaction to it being approved over there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that was actually the one thing I was -- that I failed to mention in response to Julia’s question.  I’m certainly no expert in Iranian politics, but I suspect that it is no coincidence that shortly after the Majlis signed off on the Iran deal that there was a decision made by some inside of Iran to conduct a ballistic missile test that garnered the strong opposition and objection of the international community.  So that’s -- I wanted to make that observation first.

I don’t have a specific reaction to the approval, however, other than to point to it as an indication that we continue to be on a path toward the successful implementation of this international agreement.


Q:    Josh, you said that there are strong indications that this missile test violated the U.N. Security Council resolutions.  Why can’t you be more affirmative and say that it did or did not?

MR. EARNEST:  I asked this question myself this morning, and I don’t know if this is an overly lawyered construction.  I think the sense is that there’s more information about the specifics of the missile launch that need to be collected before a definitive statement can be made about whether or not it is in violation of this existing U.N. Security Council resolution.  But based on what has been reported publicly, there are strong indications that it is a violation of those Security Council resolutions that are on the books.


Q:    I wanted to go back to the issue of Iran’s missile test.  If indeed they’ve broken a U.N. Security Council resolution, would the U.S. countenance additional sanctions on Iran, even if that puts in jeopardy the implementation of the nuclear deal?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Andrew, let me just say that this is something that we’re continuing to look at.  And the details of this particular launch are important to determining whether or not they are in violation of the existing United Nations Security Council resolutions that govern Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The United States certainly takes seriously those violations, and you’ll recall that when the President convened a summit meeting of our Gulf Coast partners at Camp David, that there was ample discussion about countering Iran’s malign activities in the region.  And we certainly do believe that there is more work that could be done to interdict material and equipment that could be used to advance their missile program.  That is work that requires international cooperation.  And the President has indicated not just a willingness but even a desire to work more closely with our allies and with our partners in the Gulf Coast -- or in the Gulf to counter Iran’s ballistic missile program.