UNITED NATIONS -- The United States urged the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to impose new sanctions on Iran, saying its recent missile-related launches could be capable of delivering nuclear weapons and risk a regional arms race.
Acting U.S. ambassador Jonathan Cohen condemned "Iran's destabilizing activities" in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres obtained by The Associated Press and called on Tehran "to cease immediately all activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons."
The Trump administration last year pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, and re-imposed U.S. sanction on Iran in November that it had eased after the agreement, including targeting its vital oil sector. Under the nuclear agreement, many U.N. sanctions on Iran were lifted.
Cohen said Security Council members should "join us in imposing real consequences on Iran for its flagrant defiance of the council's demands and bring back tougher international restrictions to deter Iran's missile program."
He cited a Security Council resolution adopted in 2015 to endorse the nuclear deal that "calls upon" Iran "not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons" — but it does not require Tehran to halt such activity.
At a U.N. meeting in December on Iran's compliance with the council resolution, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was critical of the council for weakening the ban on nuclear-capable Iranian missiles that was in effect from 2010 to 2015.
He urged members to re-impose the ban and to maintain an arms embargo that is scheduled to be lifted in 2020 under the nuclear deal.
Pompeo accused Iran of building the largest ballistic missile force in the region, capable of threatening the Mideast and Europe, and said it has more than 10 ballistic missile systems in its inventory or in development. He quoted the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's airspace division, Amir Ali Hajzadeh, boasting that Iran is capable of building missiles with a range beyond 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles).
Cohen cited Iran's Dec. 1 launch of a medium-range ballistic missile on Dec. 1, 2018 and its attempt to place satellites into orbit on Jan. 15 and Feb. 5 "using its Simorgh and Safir space launch vehicles, respectively."
He said the missile launched on Dec. 1 was designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons and the space launch vehicles used "technologies related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of deliveries nuclear weapons."
The United States faces an uphill struggle in getting Security Council approval for new sanctions on Iran and Pompeo's proposals, especially because of the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement. The nuclear deal is still supported by the five other parties — Russia, China, Britain and France, who are all veto-wielding Security Council members, and Germany.