(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration on Monday accused Russia of “quibbling” by saying Iran’s repeated ballistic missile launches are not a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted eight months ago – but the administration itself allowed that same measure to pass with watered-down language.
Speaking days after Iran carried out ballistic missile tests – for at least the third time since last fall – Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin said Monday his government does not consider the launches to be violations of last July’s Security Council resolution 2231, since the measure does not directly bar Iran from such activity.
“A ‘call’ is different from a ban so, legally, you cannot violate a call,” he said. “You can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call.”
Churkin’s U.S. counterpart, Ambassador Samantha Power, then said Moscow appeared to be “lawyering its way to look for reasons not to act.” She added that the U.S. would not relent on the issue, “no matter the quibbling that we heard today about this and that.”
Yet U.S. diplomats allowed resolution 2231 to pass with the very language that Churkin is now citing in refusing to act against Tehran.
Six days after the Iran nuclear agreement was reached last July, the Security Council unanimously rushed through resolution 2231, enshrining the deal.
At Iran’s insistence, its missiles were not on the table in the nuclear talks. But since resolution 2231 provides for the termination of the provisions of seven earlier Iran nuclear resolutions passed between 2006 and 2015, it did include a reference to the missile issue.
As reported at the time, it said Iran was “called upon” not to carry out any activity, including launches, relating to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Citing that wording, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Iranian lawmakers the provision was therefore “non-binding.”
By contrast, a key earlier resolution, resolution 1929 of 2010, had stated unambiguously that Iran “shall not” undertake such activity.
Last Wednesday, after Iran having carried out a series of missile launches, State Department spokesman John Kirby stated that, if the reports were true, the activity would violate U.N. resolutions.
“If it’s true that these are in fact ballistic missile launches that they’ve conducted, there’s no question that that’s a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and we will take the matter up with the U.N. – absolutely, no question about it,” he said then.
But on Monday, after Churkin had made his remarks in New York, Kirby used different language, saying the launches were “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” resolution 2231.
A reporter challenged Kirby on his change of wording.
“Last week, you argued that it was ‘a violation.’ Now you’re using very different language – that it is ‘not consistent with’ or that it is ‘in defiance of.’ Why did you say it was a violation last week unless you were certain that it was a violation, and why have you changed the language to ‘not consistent with’ and ‘in defiance of’?” he asked.
Kirby began by saying that last week the U.S. was not certain the reports were true.
“Now we have more information that leads us to believe that they did, in fact, do these launches. And on a more careful reading of the language, I am being more specific in my answer today, okay?”
In an ensuing exchange, Kirby refused to “get into a debate over verbs,” arguing that the point is Iran is not acting in line with its obligations, and the U.S. as a result is bringing up the matter at the council and believes it has “a strong case” to make.
“Verbs are important,” the reporter pushed back. “And when you adopt a position from the podium that something is a violation, you’re speaking on behalf of the U.S. government.”
“I didn’t say it was a violation last week,” Kirby said. “I said if it was true—”
“You said violated – if it was true, it violated,” the reporter said. “You’ve now concluded that it is true.”
Kirby also was asked about the softer language in resolution 2231: “How do you make the case that that wasn’t a concession?”
“Because I wasn’t in the room when that was negotiated,” Kirby replied. “I don’t know what went into the actual drafting of the language.”
Last December, Power appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was challenged on the failure of the Security Council to act in response to two earlier Iranian missile launches – on Oct. 10 and Nov. 21.
She replied that the council was discussing the matter, adding that “discussions are a form of U.N. action.”
Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) pointed to the difference in wording in resolutions 1929 and 2231, and voiced concern that the Iranians may view the wording in the latter “as permissive language.”
Secretary of State John Kerry told senators last month the administration would not support new congressional sanctions over the missile launches, arguing that unilateral measures announced by the White House in January had served as “a warning.”
After last week’s launches – including launches of rockets inscribed with messages calling for Israel’s destruction – Corker called on the administration and U.N. Security Council to “wake up and impose costs on Iran,” and warned that there was “already a strong bipartisan movement in the Senate to act.”