By Kelsey Davenport
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country will not develop ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 2,000 kilometers, reinforcing prior statements by officials and military leaders about missile range limitations.
Although that constraint leaves the United States out of range, most of the Middle East, including regional U.S. military facilities and Israel, are within the 2,000-kilometer range. Further, there was no indication that Khamenei’s order, citied by Iranian officials, precludes Iran from continuing to develop satellite launch rockets, a capability that would inform any attempt to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Iranian government officials have said repeatedly that Iran would abide by such a limit voluntarily and focus on improving accuracy. A statement by the supreme leader in this regard carries greater political significance. Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests appear to confirm that Tehran is concentrating on accuracy rather than trying to extend the range of its systems.
A June 2017 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee found that Iran’s current ballistic missile inventory includes systems with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, but did not discuss any missiles that exceed that range. The report did mention that Iran’s space launch vehicles could provide a pathway to longer-range ballistic missiles, but many experts note that there are significant technological differences between space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles.
Iran’s ballistic missiles are not covered by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the deal, called on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile testing on systems “designed to be capable” of delivering nuclear weapons.
U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the nuclear deal for failing to include ballistic missiles and, in an Iran policy speech on Oct. 13, directed his administration to work with Congress to “fix” what he described as “flaws” in the agreement, including the issue of ballistic missiles. (See ACT, November 2017.)
Washington’s EU partners in the nuclear agreement—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—said in a statement responding to Trump’s speech that they are willing to work on ballistic missile restrictions outside of the deal.
Khamenei, however, said that Iran’s ballistic missiles are non-negotiable and “not to be bargained for.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani similarly emphasized that Iran’s ballistic missiles are necessary for state security and that production of ballistic missiles is not a violation of international law.
Although Resolution 2231 only “called” on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile activities, including development and testing, there is a clear prohibition on transfers or exports of ballistic missiles and related technologies without advance approval from the UN Security Council. A similar process is required for a range of armaments.
Yet, a U.S. statement tying a missile fired on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Iran raises concerns that Iran may have violated the restriction prohibiting transfers. The Saudi military intercepted a missile from Yemen targeted at Riyadh’s international airport on Nov. 4.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan, head of U.S. Air Force Central Command in Qatar, said on Nov. 10 that there have been Iranian markings on missiles used by the Houthis against Saudi and Saudi-backed forces in the war in Yemen. He said the markings “connect the dots to Iran.” Other countries, including Saudi Arabia and France, also linked the missile to Iran in earlier statements.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in Iran on Nov. 5 that accusations that the missile came from Iran are “baseless” and contended that Yemen can produce its own ballistic missiles.
Iran allegedly has transferred missile components in violation of Resolution 2231, according to a June report from the UN secretary-general assessing implementation of the resolution. The report referenced two cases in which missile components were seized in Ukraine. Additionally, the report noted letters from authorities in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates alleging that arms of Iranian origin were seized in Yemen.
IAEA Points to Iran’s Compliance
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, presenting findings that point toward Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.
IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said on Nov. 14 that his “assessment of the current situation” is that Iran is meeting its nuclear-related commitments. Speaking at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, Amano said that the IAEA is “confident” that it can “detect diversion of nuclear material or misuse of nuclear facilities and any nuclear activities and materials that are not included in Iran’s declaration in a timely manner.”
In the Nov. 13 report, the IAEA noted that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 96.7 kilograms, well below the 300-kilogram limit, and its stockpile of heavy water was 114.4 metric tons, below the limit of 130 metric tons. Further, Iran was abiding by the limitations on operating centrifuges, which caps Iran’s use of centrifuges for enriching uranium to 5,060 IR-1 machines, according to the report.
In a new development, Iran provided the IAEA in an Oct. 29 letter with preliminary design information for a light-water critical reactor, which it proposes to build in the “near future” for research purposes, consistent with the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Annex I of the accord notes that Iran will “rely on light water for its future nuclear power and research reactors,” and Annex III says that the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) “will facilitate Iran’s acquisition of light water research and power reactors.”
The report is the first since U.S. President Donald Trump withheld a certification to Congress on the nuclear deal. Although Trump did not do so on the grounds that Iran was violating its commitments, he said that Iran had “intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.”
Amano, however, said that inspectors have had access to all the necessary sites and noted that inspectors are now spending 3,000 workdays a year on the ground, twice the number in 2013.
Amano also sought to dispel doubt over the agency’s authority to monitor Iran’s compliance with the accord’s Section T, which prohibits Iran from undertaking activities that “could contribute to the design and development” of a nuclear device, including experiments with certain types of explosives.
That provision includes no specific reference to IAEA verification, and Russia has interpreted that to mean the Vienna-based agency has no authority over it. Western powers disagree with Russia. Amano in September sought clarification from the P5+1 on the IAEA’s role in implementing Section T. U.S. Ambassador the United Nations Nikki Haley in September accused Russia of trying to use the issue to “shield” Iran from inspections.—KELSEY DAVENPORT