(CNSNews.com) – As yet another deadline in the Iran nuclear talks slipped Tuesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Capitol Hill that the U.S. should not release any pressure on Iran relating to its ballistic missile program and conventional arms trade.
“Under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, also testifying in a hearing otherwise focused on countering the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threat, told the committee, “We want them [the Iranians] to continue to be isolated as a military, and limited in terms of the kind of equipment materiel they are able to get.”
Asked by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) why it was important to stop Iran from having an ICBM program, Carter said the reason was because “the ‘I’ in ICBM stands for ‘intercontinental,’ which means having the capability to fly from Iran to the United States, and we don’t want that.”
The future of a U.N. Security Council arms embargo and resolutions relating to Tehran’s ballistic missile activities are believed to be among issues holding up a final nuclear agreement at the talks between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – in Vienna.
Iran’s negotiators are reported to be demanding that U.N. sanctions relating to its ballistic missiles be lifted as part of a nuclear deal, and also that a broader arms embargo be lifted.
Russia, which last April lifted a five-year-old ban on the sale to Iran of S300 surface-to-air missiles, evidently sympathizes with Iran on those points, having disputed all along that the talks should cover missiles in the first place.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters before leaving the talks in the Austrian capital Tuesday that there were fewer than 10 issues remaining in the way of a deal, including a dispute over the arms embargo.
Following Tuesday’s committee hearing, Ayotte said she hoped the White House and the administration’s negotiators in Vienna listen to Carter and Dempsey, “who oppose lifting the arms embargo against Iran, as well as the restrictions on their ballistic missile program.”
The talks are continuing; the State Department on Tuesday announced a further extension of measures put in place under the interim Nov. 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) agreement – which had already been extended from June 30 to July 7 – this time until Friday, July 10.
At Iran’s insistence, its missiles were not on the table at earlier stages of the P5+1 talks. As a result the JPOA, which granted Iran some sanctions relief in exchange for limited curbs on its nuclear program, included no direct reference to missiles.
But the JPOA text did say that the applicable U.N. Security Council resolutions are to be dealt with as part of a comprehensive agreement. Most of those resolutions – five out of six passed between 2006 and 2010 – do cite the ballistic missile threat.
Then the Iran-P5+1 “framework” agreement announced on April 1 – on which a final deal is meant to be based – again carried no direct reference to Iran’s missiles.
A separate White House fact sheet did refer to the missile issue, saying that a final deal will be endorsed in a new U.N. Security Council resolution that will also contain “[i]mportant restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles.”
Iran has disputed the accuracy of that U.S. fact sheet on several counts.
Western intelligence agencies believe there are crucial links between Iran’s ballistic missile program and suspected illicit nuclear activities.
A Nov. 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency reported cited “credible” evidence that Iran had carried out “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device” including work on detonator devices that could be used in a nuclear weapon and could fit in a ballistic missile warhead.
Last February the chief U.S. negotiator in the nuclear talks, undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman, told lawmakers that in the event a final agreement assures the world that Iran can’t acquire a nuclear weapon, the fact it has a missile capability would be rendered “almost irrelevant.”
Michael Eisenstadt, director of the military and security studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote this week that even though Iran’s ballistic missiles are conventionally-armed, “credible reports of links with its nuclear program underscore the need for limits on missile R&D [research and development] work as part of a nuclear accord.”
“[M]any observers remain concerned that personnel and facilities tied to Iran’s missile program were, and may still be, engaged in work related to possible military dimensions (PMD) of the nuclear program,” he said.
“These concerns underscore the need to effectively address the missile issue as part of the U.N. Security Council resolution that will backstop the long-term nuclear accord now being negotiated, if it will not be dealt with in the accord itself.”