WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Wednesday it was “officially putting Iran on notice” that it is paying attention to what it called “defiance” of nuclear agreements with its test launch of a ballistic missile.
The launch, along with Tuesday’s attack by Houthi rebels on a Saudi warship off the coast of Yemen, “underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East,” said Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
Flynn read the Iran statement at the regular White House news briefing, and did not take questions.
In his first media appearance since the inauguration, Flynn recalled Trump’s campaign criticism of the nuclear deal, negotiated by Barack Obama’s administration with world powers and Iran, and the United Nations, “as being weak and ineffective.”
“Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements,” he said, “Iran now feels emboldened.” The brief statement, calling the missile launch “provocative,” did not outline any actions the administration intends to take.
Iran’s Sunday launch of a medium range Khorramshahr missile ended in failure, with the missile reportedly traveling about 600 miles before exploding in air.
The United States called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Following the Tuesday session, new U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley said the world should be”alarmed” by the test, and called for the U.N. to take unspecified action.
In a Tehran news conference Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif did not confirm that the launch had taken place, but said that “the missile issue is not part of the nuclear deal,” since Iranian missiles are “not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead. … Our ballistic missile was designed to carry a normal warhead in the field of legitimate defense.”
The agreement, which went into effect a year ago, prohibits development of ballistic missiles as part of a nuclear weapons program that the accord was designed to dismantle. Differences of opinion on whether the launch is a violation of the agreement rest on interpretation of both the strength of the nuclear deal, and on Iran’s intentions.
Although a number of Republican presidential primary candidates, and some members of Congress, have called for tearing up the agreement, Trump has not taken that position. He has called it a “bad deal,” and said his administration would review it to determine if it should be renegotiated.
U.S. partners in the negotiations, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, have warned against a renegotiation of the deal, under which severe restrictions on a nuclear program Iran insisted was solely for energy production was exchanged for a lifting of nuclear-related U.S. and international sanctions.
The Saudi warship was attacked Tuesday by Houthi rebels in Yemen. A rebel “suicide boat” exploded after striking the ship, which was patrolling off the Yemeni coast. Two Saudi sailors were killed.
Saudi Arabia is fighting Yemeni rebels from the Houthi tribe who have taken over broad swaths of the neighboring country. Its actions include off-shore naval patrols to intercept what it has said are Iranian arms supplies to the rebels.