UN ambassadors for Britain, France and Germany said in the letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Iranian actions were "inconsistent" with the missile provision in the Security Council resolution endorsing a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran
That provision calls on Iran "not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons." But it does not require Tehran to halt such activity, and the Iranian government reiterated Thursday that none of its missile activities were nuclear-related and therefore legal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Twitter dismissed the letter as "a desperate falsehood", saying the Europeans were covering up their own "miserable incompetence" at abiding by the nuclear deal and were "bowing to US bullying".
Zarif said the letter from the three European countries — the E3 — “is a desperate falsehood to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum of their own #JCPOA obligations.” JCPOA or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal.
This was an apparent reference to the Europeans’ inability to get around US sanctions, reimposed by US President Donald Trump, which have largely stopped Iran from selling its crude oil overseas, cutting into a crucial source of government income.
“If E3 want a modicum of global credibility, they can begin by exerting sovereignty rather than bowing to US bullying,” Zarif added.
The letter referred to footage shared on social media in April this year of the test flight of a new Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile variant that was alleged to be "technically capable of delivering a nuclear weapon".
In addition to the April 23 flight test of the new Shahab-3 missile variant, the Europeans cited three other examples of “Iranian activity inconsistent” with the 2015 resolution:
—The launch of the Borkan-3, “a new liquid-propelled medium-range ballistic missile, traveling approximately 1,300 kilometers,” which was announced by Houthi forces in Yemen on Aug. 2, 2019, which the Europeans say is an advancement of Iran’s Qiam-1 missile.
—The July 24, 2019, launch of a ballistic missile that flew over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), which media reports indicated was a test launch of a Shahab-3 medium-range missile.
—The Aug. 29, 2019, attempted launch, reported by Iranian media, of a Safir satellite launch vehicle, which was unsuccessful.
The letter, dated November 21, said these flights were "the latest in a long series of advances in Iranian ballistic missile technology".
Iran's UN Ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi responded in a letter saying the European powers were using "unreliable sources" and "outdated reports" to make misleading arguments.
"Iran is determined to resolutely continue its activities related to ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, both of which are within its inherent rights under international law," the letter said.
Aiming clearly at Yemen, Takht-Ravanchi dismissed the reference to missile capabilities of regional countries as “irrelevant and yet politically motivated,” and said space launch vehicles “do not even fall into the category of ballistic missiles.”
He said the US and other unnamed industrialized countries, “under such absurd pretexts as proliferation concerns, attempt to demonize benign technologies such as space technology” and prevent the inherent right of all countries to explore and use outer space.
The European letter said they used the Missile Technology Control Regime “performance characteristics” that a rocket system would need to be capable of delivering at least a 500-kilogram payload to a range of at least 300 kilometers (185 miles) to be nuclear capable.
Takht-Ravanchi countered that, saying the definition is “not legally binding even for its 35 members, let alone being accepted universally.”
The Europeans’ letter also noted that a 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program concluded “that extensive evidence indicated detailed Iranian research in 2002-2003 on arming the Shahab-3 with a nuclear warhead.”
Takht-Ravanchi said the IAEA “has no technical competence regarding missiles.”
“None of Iran’s missiles are `designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons,’” the ambassador said.
France, Germany and the UK asked Guterres to inform the Security Council in his next report that Iran’s ballistic missile activity is “inconsistent” with the 2015 resolution endorsing the nuclear deal.
Takht-Ravanchi noted that “since Iran’s activities related to space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles fall outside of” the resolution, “the secretary-general is therefore expected to avoid reporting on such irrelevant activities in his reports on the implementation of that resolution.”
Guterres’ report is due Wednesday, and the Security Council has scheduled a Dec. 19 meeting to discuss implementation of the 2015 resolution.
Iran has always denied plans to develop nuclear missiles and says its nuclear program is only for peaceful energy production and medical purposes.
The landmark 2015 deal gave Iran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
But it has been at risk of falling apart since Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
The JCPOA was agreed between Iran on one side and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia as well as the United States (P5+1) on the other.
Twelve months on from the US pullout, Iran began reducing its commitments to the deal hoping to win concessions from those still party to the accord.
President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said Iran was willing to return to the negotiating table if the United States dropped the sanctions.
In his remarks, Rouhani said his government was striving to remain in the nuclear deal despite "pressures" on it.
AFP and AP contributed to this story.