Under the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA), a group of countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union — agreed to lift crippling sanctions imposed on Iran, giving it greater access to the global economy.
In return, Iran agreed to take concrete steps to curb its nuclear program, limiting it to strictly peaceful applications, and to allow intrusive inspections of key nuclear facilities by the IAEA to ensure compliance. There was nothing in the deal that said Iran would agree not to test ballistic missiles, and so far there is no indication that the country’s nuclear program has restarted.
However, there is a UN Security Council resolution that includes language specifically about Iran’s ballistic missiles. “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day,” it reads.
The phrase “called upon” is pretty ambiguous. It doesn’t necessarily mean “forbidden.” It basically just means “it would be nice if you didn’t.” So when Iran tests ballistic missiles — as it has in both 2016 and 2017 — it’s probably violating at least the spirit of that UN resolution, if not the letter of it.
“The ballistic missile tests are inconsistent with UN Security Council resolutions, but this is separate from the nuclear deal,” Kelsey Davenport, a nonproliferation expert at the Arms Control Association, told me in August.
So if Iran had tested a missile this past weekend, it might have violated the UN resolution but not the Iran deal — a crucial distinction.
That reality is unlikely to affect Trump’s thinking, though — but it appears a fake test might.