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Iran’s ballistic missile programme and support for terrorism demand a stronger response

5 min read

A renewal of the ballistic missile programme shows defiance from the Iranian Regime, says Sir David Amess MP.

Despite repeated assurances of moderation from the Iranian regime, its leaders and affiliated institutions are still engaged in destabilising the entire Middle East. To President Trump’s credit, the White House has shown little patience for Iran’s behaviour since he took office. The Trump administration has rightly taken steps to contain the regime. However, more needs to be done to achieve security in the Middle East and the wider world.

Last week Iran’s regime claimed to have upped its support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in the bloody civil war by firing missiles at targets in the country. And on 25th May, official state media in Iran announced that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had completed a third underground facility designated for the production of ballistic missiles. The announcement was accompanied by a statement from General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of aerospace division of the hard-line paramilitary, who emphasised that the Iranian regime is undeterred by American objections to the IRGC’s ongoing work on weapons that could be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Following Hassan Rouhani’s re-election last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the Iranian president demonstrate his country’s supposed commitment to “interaction with the world” by curtailing  its ballistic missile programme. Instead, Rouhani pre-emptively endorsed the IRGC’s move and claimed that “America's dream of ending Iran's missile programme will never come true.”

A renewal of the ballistic missile programme shows defiance by the IRGC and the Iranian regime of a UN Security Council resolution that was supposed to strengthen the 2015 nuclear deal and diffuse tensions in the region. Despite the UN Security Council’s resolution, more than half a dozen Iranian ballistic missile tests have been carried out since the conclusion of the nuclear deal. The first test to take place after Trump’s inauguration was repelled swiftly by the president putting Iran “on notice” which indicated a change to a more hawkish U.S. stance with the regime.

Whilst the nuclear agreement’s neglect of the ballistic missile issue is only one of its more serious problems, the main underlying error made by the writers of the agreement was their assumption that the Islamic Republic of Iran was capable of being a good-faith negotiating partner, with or without Rouhani occupying the presidency. Rouhani’s recent responses to the U.S. concerns should end the pretence that he can be a moderating influence. Moreover, the Iranian regime’s support of terrorism has been a constant feature since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Bob Corker, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on 25th May, that “It is astounding what Iran continues to do around the world.” He was referring to the country’s ongoing sponsorship of terrorism in the form of such groups as Hezbollah as well as Tehran’s direct intervention into regional conflicts which has greatly exacerbated sectarian tensions in Syria, Yemen, and the Middle East as a whole.

On the other hand, the West has been slow to recognise the Iranian regime’s support of terrorism even though foreign policy experts and Iranian expatriates including the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) have relentlessly drawn attention to it. The NCRI will be holding its annual Iran Freedom rally on 1st July outside of Paris – an event that in recent years has attracted upwards of 100,000 people, including dozens of American political dignitaries who support the cause of popular regime change in Iran.

With a week to go until that event takes place, there is still hope that the NCRI and its supporters will not have to repeat to the international community that the Iranian regime is beyond reform. The July rally should be embraced by the White House’s supporters and allies as an opportunity to explore what can actually be done to facilitate change within the Iranian nation.

The Paris event is viewed by millions of people inside Iran each year by way of illegal yet commonplace satellite hookups. It is strongly indicative of the amount of support that the Iranian Resistance enjoys inside its home country and of the number of people who wish to see the end of the clerical regime and who endeavour toward that goal. The violent repression of the Iranian regime and the essential lack of support from Western powers and the international community remain key challenges to securing a free and democratic Iran.
Fortunately, the Trump administration’s position towards Iran is breaking new ground. The sanctions measures that were recently approved in a vote of 98-2 by the U.S. Senate include provisions to extend terror-related sanctions to the entirety of the IRGC. In time, this will degrade the ability of this paramilitary force to crackdown on dissent as it has been doing throughout Rouhani’s tenure and throughout Iran’s recent history. Furthermore, the White House will not be swayed by the false promises of moderation and stability or prevented by taking appropriate action against Iran’s ballistic missile programme and other activities destabilising the region.

The current U.S. administration’s foreign policy towards Iran still remains a work in progress. There needs to be an explicit declaration of support from the U.S. presidency for the Iranian Resistance along with joint cooperation to end the ballistic missile programme and make Iran democratic and nuclear free and back the 10-point plan of NCRI President-elect, Maryam Rajavi. The July rally presents a good opportunity for the US administration to show its commitment to the official Iranian opposition.

Sir David Amess is the Conservative Memeber of Parliament for Southend West in the UK House of Commons and co-chair of the British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF)

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