The White House is delaying imposing new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program, The Wall Street Journal reported December 31.
The move to pull back planned sanctions, which at one point the Journal said were to be announced on December 30, came after Tehran moved to retaliate by speeding up the program that the United States believes is in violation of existing United Nations sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani ordered his defense minister to speed up the country’s missile program in response to reports of new U.S. sanctions over a ballistic missile test Tehran carried out in October.
"As the U.S. government is apparently planning a continuation of its hostile policies and illegal meddling to add a number of companies and individuals to the list of its previous unjust sanctions...the armed forces need to quickly and with more seriousness pursue their missile development program," Rohani said in a letter to Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan published by Iranian news agencies.
Rohani's letter responded to a Wall Street Journal report December 30 that the U.S. administration was preparing new sanctions on companies and individuals connected with Iran’s ballistic-missile program.
U.S. officials have said the Treasury Department retains a right under July's nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers to blacklist entities suspected of involvement in Iran's missile development.
Iranian officials have insisted that their ballistic-missile program does not violate UN sanctions and the country's supreme leader would view any new sanctions as violating the nuclear accord.
“The government of the Islamic republic announced during the nuclear talks that it has never negotiated with anyone over its legitimate defense power, including its missile program, and while emphasizing on its legitimate right, it won’t accept any restrictions in this area,” Rohani wrote in the December 31 letter to Dehghan.
He said Iran’s missile have not been designed to carry nuclear warheads and that they’re merely used as “an important and standard tool" for defense purposes.
Rohani said that Iran’s defense capabilities are not a threat against others.
The Iranian president also said that if the U.S. repeats its "wrong and interventionist policies" then the Defense Ministry would have to plan to expand the country's missible capabilities.
UN sanctions monitors said on December 15 that a medium-range Emad rocket that Iran tested on October 10 was a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, making it a violation of a UN Security Council resolution.
The United States and its allies have pushed for new UN sanctions over the missile test.
But while it is possible for the UN sanctions committee to blacklist additional Iranian entities over the missile launch, UN diplomats say Russia and China have opposed the sanctions on Iran's missile program and might block any new action.
The Obama administration is under strong pressure from the Republican-led Congress to act on the missile-test violation documented by the UN.
Republican leaders contend that if current UN sanctions aren't enforced, no one can be confident that the curbs on Iran's nuclear activities under the nuclear deal will be enforced.
The White House has warned that the United States might move on its own if the UN fails to act.
The Wall Street Journal said the planned U.S. Treasury Department sanctions cover two networks linked to Iran that are developing the country's missile program and include many of the people in those networks.
The Treasury Department is also preparing to sanction five Iranian defense officials for work on the ballistic-missile program, the newspaper said.
Treasury will justify the new sanctions in part by citing ties between Iran and North Korea on missile development, it said.