New presidents are often tested by potential adversaries shortly after taking office. For the first George Bush, it was the Chinese crackdown on democracy protesters in June 1989. Bill Clinton had the escalation in Somalia and the Battle of Mogadishu. The second George Bush had to deal with the collision of a Navy airplane with a Chinese fighter and the subsequent internment of the Navy flight crew. President Obama faced the kidnapping of a freighter crew by Somali pirates. For President Trump, the test is coming barely a week into office with an Iranian missile test.
US defense officials confirmed Monday that Iran tested a missile, but declined to give details about the date, location or range of the test according to the Wall Street Journal. In a separate statement, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “Iran conducted a medium-range ballistic missile test in recent days.” The Jerusalem Post cited an anonymous US official in stating that the missile traveled 630 miles.
Israel condemned the test and called for more sanctions on Iran. Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said in a statement on Army Radio that “there is no doubt that further sanctions on Iran are needed.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that “Iranian aggression must not go unanswered” and said that he would raise the issue with President Trump at their meeting on February 15.
“The missile issue is not part of the nuclear deal,” said Iranian spokesman Javad Zarif in al Jazeera. Zarif also denied that the missile was an offensive weapon, saying it was “not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead.”
Iran was previously banned from conducting missile tests under a UN resolution, but the language was changed by the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal. The resolution now says that the Security Council “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” but does not specifically prohibit it.
Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement calling the test a violation of the UN resolution. “Since the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, Iran has violated international restrictions on ballistic missiles and arms exports while also exceeding limits on nuclear material set by the JCPOA,” Corker said in the statement.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump was critical of President Obama’s deal with Iran, but stopped short of saying that he would withdraw from the deal, which was never ratified by the Senate. Trump pledged to renegotiate the nuclear deal if he was elected.
“There will be no renegotiation, and the (agreement) will not be reopened,” Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s head negotiator said in Newsweek earlier this month. “We and many analysts believe that the (agreement) is consolidated. The new U.S. administration will not be able to abandon it. Nuclear talks with America are over, and we have nothing else to discuss.”
How President Trump handles the missile test, a flagrant violation of United Nations policy, will set an important first impression for how other countries view his ability to handle a difficult crisis situation. If he decides to implement new sanctions, it will also test his ability to assemble an international coalition to give the sanctions a bigger bite. If Trump takes no action, it could encourage further violations by Iran as well as encouraging aggressive behavior by other countries.