Iran accused France, Germany and the United Kingdom on Thursday of "a desperate falsehood" for saying its missile program goes against a U.N. resolution calling on Tehran not to undertake any activity related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Iranian officials said none of its missiles are designed to be nuclear-capable, and Iran "is determined to resolutely continue its activities related to ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, both of which are within its inherent rights under international law."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi responded separately to a letter from the three European countries to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres circulated Wednesday.
France, Germany and the UK said they had firmly concluded that "Iran's developments of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles" are "inconsistent" with the missile provision in the Security Council resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
That provision calls on 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, and the Iranian government reiterated Thursday that none of its missile activities are nuclear-related and therefore legal.
U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May 2018. But the agreement, known as the JCPOA, is still supported by the five other parties — France, Britain, Russia and China, which are all veto-wielding Security Council members, and Germany, which is currently serving a two-year term on the council.
Zarif, Iran's top diplomat, tweeted Thursday that the letter from the three European countries — the E3 — "is a desperate falsehood to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum of their own #JCPOA obligations."
This was an apparent reference to the Europeans' inability to get around U.S. sanctions, re-imposed by Trump, that have largely stopped Iran from selling its crude oil abroad, cutting into a crucial source of government income.
"If E3 want a modicum of global credibility, they can begin by exerting sovereignty rather than bowing to US bullying," Zarif added.
Ravanchi, the Iranian ambassador, offered a point-by-point rebuttal to the Europeans in a letter to Guterres and U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, who is this month's president of the Security Council.
By contrast, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon welcomed the Europeans' letter, saying that "in order to thwart Tehran's objectives, significant sanctions have to be imposed on the regime."
The Europeans' letter said they used the Missile Technology Control Regime "performance characteristics" that a rocket system would need to be capable of delivering at least a 500-kilogram payload to a range of at least 300 kilometers (185 miles) to be nuclear capable.
Ravanchi countered that this definition is "not legally binding even for its 35 members, let alone being accepted universally."
The European letter cited footage released on social media April 22, 2019, of a previously unseen flight test of a new Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile variant "equipped with a maneuverable re-entry vehicle." It said: "The Shahab-3 booster used in the test is a Missile Technology Control Regime category-1 system and as such is technically capable of delivering a nuclear weapon."
It noted that a 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program concluded "that extensive evidence indicated detailed Iranian research in 2002-2003 on arming the Shahab-3 with a nuclear warhead."
Ravanchi called social media an "unreliable" source and said the IAEA "has no technical competence regarding missiles."
"None of Iran's missiles are `designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons,'" the ambassador said.
In addition to the April 23 flight test of the new Shahab-3 missile variant, the Europeans cited three other examples of "Iranian activity inconsistent" with the 2015 resolution:
—The launch of the Borkan-3, "a new liquid-propelled medium-range ballistic missile, traveling approximately 1,300 kilometers," which was announced by Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen on Aug. 2, 2019, and is an advancement of Iran's Qiam-1 missile.
—The July 24, 2019, launch of a ballistic missile that flew over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), which media reports indicated was a test launch of a Shahab-3 medium-range missile.
—The Aug. 29, 2019, attempted launch, reported by Iranian media, of a Safir satellite launch vehicle, which was unsuccessful. U.N. experts have said such launch vehicles share "a great deal of similar materials and technology" with ballistic missiles.
Aiming clearly at Yemen, Ravanchi dismissed the reference to missile capabilities of regional countries as "irrelevant and yet politically motivated," and said space launch vehicles "do not even fall into the category of ballistic missiles."
He said the U.S. and other unnamed industrialized countries, "under such absurd pretexts as proliferation concerns, attempt to demonize benign technologies such as space technology" and prevent the inherent right of all countries to explore and use outer space.
France, Germany and the UK asked Guterres to inform the Security Council in his next report that Iran's ballistic missile activity is "inconsistent" with the 2015 resolution endorsing the nuclear deal.
Ravanchi said that "since Iran's activities related to space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles fall outside" the resolution, "the secretary-general is therefore expected to avoid reporting on such irrelevant activities in his reports on the implementation of that resolution."
Guterres' report is due Wednesday, and the Security Council has scheduled a Dec. 19 meeting to discuss implementation of the 2015 resolution.