Russia opposes UN sanctions on Iran over missile tests

Iran test-fires a medium-range Qadr ballistic missile from the Alborz mountains on March 9, 2016 (AFP Photo/Mahmood Hosseini)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Russia on Monday opposed slapping sanctions on Iran over recent ballistic missile tests that Moscow's UN envoy said did not violate a UN resolution adopted after the landmark nuclear deal.

The UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting on the missile launches at the request of the United States, which along with Britain had pushed for a special report to decide on possible sanctions.

But the meeting concluded with no specific follow-up action other than further discussion on the test-launches within a designated Security Council committee on Iran.

"We did agree that it's not a violation," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, welcoming "a very satisfactory outcome of the discussion."

Russia's stance as a veto-wielding member of the council effectively ruled out the possibility of UN sanctions against Iran.

The council in July adopted a resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal and called on Iran to refrain from developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Tehran maintains that the latest missile tests, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, were not aimed at developing a nuclear capability.

Churkin noted that the term "called upon" in the new resolution was an important change in legal language from previous adopted texts that barred Iran from developing such technology.

"A call is different from a ban, so legally you can't violate a call," he said.

The new resolution "clearly raises the requirements of proof quite a bit" by stating that the missiles must be "designed" to have nuclear capability, Churkin added.

- US sees 'quibbling' -

US Ambassador Samantha Power accused Russia of "lawyering its way to look for reasons not to act rather than stepping up and being prepared to shoulder our collective responsibility."

"We are not going to give up, no matter the quibbling that we heard today about this," said Power.

The US ambassador described the missile launches as "dangerous, destabilizing and provocative" and noted that Iranian military officials had claimed that the missiles were designed to be a threat to Israel.

"These were designed to deliver a nuclear weapon," said Power. "This merits a council response."

Britain and France had both raised concern over the missile launches, but the ambassadors did not specifically say that the tests were a violation of resolution 2231.

"We judge that Iran is in blatant disregard of Resolution 2231," said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said "we are worried, because we are in a case of non-compliance with 2231."

The United States slapped sanctions on Iran in January over its ballistic missile program, even as the world hailed the implementation of the nuclear deal reached between Tehran and Western powers.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon called on the council to take action, arguing that failure to do so "will give Iran a green light to continue with its nuclear missile tests."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week urged Iran to act with caution and moderation, in response to the two days of missile launches.

Given the political atmosphere in the Middle East, Iran should "act with moderation, caution and the good sense not to increase tensions through any hasty actions," Ban's spokesman said.

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