EDITH M. LEDERER , Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS — Russia is defending Iran’s right to launch a satellite, dismissing U.S. claims that Tehran was defying the U.N. resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers by sending it into space.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said that “the ongoing attempts of the United States side to deprive Iran of the right to reap the benefits of peaceful space technology under false pretexts are a cause for serious concern and profound regret.”
He dismissed as “”misleading” U.S. accusations that the April 22 satellite launch carried out by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps went against the 2015 resolution, which calls on Iran not to undertake any ballistic missile-related activities capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
“Iran has never possessed nuclear weapons, nor does it possess these weapons now, nor, we expect, will it ever possess them in the future,” Nebenzia said in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council circulated Thursday.
Since the Iran nuclear deal was adopted in 2015, he said, “Iran has been the most verified state by the International Atomic Energy Agency” and “it is an established fact that Iran does not possess, nor develop, nor test or use ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
The Russian ambassador was responding to a letter from U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft to the council president last month saying that “space launch vehicles incorporate technologies that are virtually identical to and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
“We once again urge the international community to hold Iran accountable for its actions,” she wrote. “Iran’s further development of ballistic missile technology contributes to regional tension and poses a threat to international peace and security.”
Craft urged the Security Council to strengthen existing sanctions on Iran to address the threat and to consider re-imposing “binding restrictions” against its repeated missile and satellite launches.
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have escalated since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and re-imposed crippling U.S. sanctions. A year ago, the U.S. sent thousands more troops, long-range bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Middle East in response to what it called a growing threat of Iranian attacks on U.S. interests in the region.
The satellite launch was a first for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, revealing what experts described as a secret military space program that could accelerate Iran’s ballistic missile development. After its announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter, without citing any specific incident, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
Both Nebenzia and Craft called on the U.N. secretary-general to reflect their letters in his report on implementation of the 2015 Security Council resolution, which is due by June 23. The Security Council has scheduled an open briefing on the resolution for June 30 followed by closed consultations.
A U.N. arms embargo against Iran is set to expire in October and the United States circulated a draft U.N. resolution that would indefinitely extend it to a small number of council members in late April.
Nebenzia has said Moscow will oppose any U.S. attempts to extend the arms embargo and reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran. He also dismissed as “ridiculous” the possibility of the Trump administration possibly seeking to use the “snap back” provision in the 2015 council resolution, which would restore all U.N. sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased under the terms of the agreement if the nuclear deal is violated.
Nebenzia said the U.S. pulled out of the agreement and “they have no right” to use any of its provisions.