Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran on Thursday against launching three spacecraft in the coming months, describing them as a cover for testing technology for launching a warhead at the United States and other nations, The New York Times informed.
Pompeo’s statement seemed intended to build a legal case for diplomatic, military or covert action against the Iranian missile program, but it was surprising because Tehran has been launching modest space missions, mostly to deploy satellites, since 2005.
“The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk. We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation,” Pompeo said in a statement, per Washington Post.
Around the time that Secretary of State gave the statement, a 12-year-old Iranian satellite that was launched by Russia was circling the globe, including in a path that took it close to New York. However, Pompeo made no mention of the other country that, over the years, has aided Iran’s ballistic missile and space rocket program: North Korea, whose leader was praised by President Trump as recently as Wednesday for writing him a “beautiful letter,” The Times added.
Pompeo’s warning was immediately rejected by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said in a tweet that Tehran’s launch of space vehicles, and of missiles, is “NOT in violation of Res 2231.” Zarif was referring to the United Nations resolutions approved in 2015, shortly after the completion of the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump pulled out of that deal last year, and Zarif argued on Thursday that the United States “is in material breach” of the resolution and “as such it is in no position to lecture anyone on it.” The hostile exchanges may foreshadow tensions between the two countries over the next year, The Times noted.
Pompeo has vowed to counter Iran in the Persian Gulf, and outlined a dozen demands that he says Tehran must meet if it wants an end to sanctions and readmittance to world financial markets.
Both countries may see a political advantage in increasing tensions. Iranian critics of President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif, the architects of the 2015 nuclear agreement, argue that they accomplished nothing by rolling back the country’s nuclear program, since Trump reimposed sanctions. Nonetheless, Iran has stayed in technical compliance with the accord struck with world powers during the Obama administration.