Iran has said it would continue testing new missiles despite escalating tensions, drawing criticisms from Western nations that negotiated a nuclear deal and raising the specter of perilous confrontation in the Gulf.
Iran’s announcement to have successfully tested its apparently most advanced satellite-carrying rocket into orbit on Thursday has become a subject of intense international dispute.
It gave rise to a new tension in the Gulf with the U.S. at a time when President Donald J. Trump questions Iran’s ambitions on ballistic missile development.
In a significant progress for the country’s space program, Iranian state television reported that the “Simorgh” rocket, capable of carrying a satellite weighing 250 kg (550 pounds), conforms to the latest international standards.
The launch was met with concern in the U.S., France, Germany, and Britain. In a joint statement the next day, four countries harshly criticized Iran and denounced the launch as inconsistent with a U.N. Security Council resolution. They also called on Iran not to conduct such tests.
Suspecting that Iran’s latest move is part of a ballistic missile program and labeling it as a “provocative action,” the U.S. imposed sanctions on Friday on six Iranian firms controlled by the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group.
In doing so, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control aimed at blocking the company’s property under its jurisdiction and obstruct possible business relations of U.S. citizens.
“These sanctions … underscore the United States’ deep concerns with Iran’s continued development and testing of ballistic missiles and other provocative behavior,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said.
He declared that the U.S. government will continue “to aggressively counter” Iran’s ballistic missile-related activity.”
The Treasury announcement came hours after the U.S. Senate decided to impose new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The bill included human rights abuses of Iran together with its missile development programs.
“The issue with Iran always comes back to mistrust. Iran’s widespread support for terrorists tells us we can’t trust them. Iran’s breaking its obligation on missile testing tells us we can’t trust them. Yesterday’s launch proves that yet again,” Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said.
As a response to criticism and sanctions, Iran rejected international accusations of violating U.N. resolutions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied on Friday claims that Tehran had missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads, state TV reported.
“Iran – unlike the U.S. – has complied in good faith with the letter and spirit of (the nuclear deal). Rhetoric and actions from U.S. show bad faith,” Mr. Zarif said.
In reply to the U.S., the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee drafted a bill to counter new U.S. sanctions against Tehran.
Although the Trump administration certified Iran as complying with the nuclear deal last week, Mr. Trump urged Tehran to obey to the terms of the nuclear deal. “If not” he added in a speech in Ohio, “They face big, big problems.”
Mr. Trump also criticized his predecessor Barack Obama, who negotiated and signed the nuclear agreement with Iran, by describing it as “the worst deal ever.”
He argued nuclear agreement had “emboldened” Iran and forecasted that it wouldn’t take place much longer.
Within the context of multinational Iran nuclear deal signed in Vienna on 14 July 2015, Tehran agreed to halt its nuclear program in return for a lifting of some economic sanctions.
Reflecting growing tensions between the two countries, the U.S. and Iran also came face to face on Saturday in the Gulf. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards said the USS Nimitz and a battleship came close to their rocket-bearing vessels and shot warning flares.
American forces sent out a helicopter near a number of vessels close to Resalat oil and gas platform, Reuters quoted from the Guard’s official news site Sepah News.
Iranian Guards considered the move as “provocative and unprofessional.” There was no immediate official comment from Washington.