Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken admitted that in “some places and to some extent” Iran’s bad behavior has increased since signing the P5+1 nuclear deal with the sanctions relief windfall.
“Here is what I think is going on,” Blinken told PBS’ Charlie Rose. “For example we have seen some additional ballistic missile tests that we were taking action against including through the United Nations.”
Iran announced in December that it was stepping up missile production in response to a report that the Treasury Department was preparing sanctions in response to two illegal missile tests.
President Hassan Rouhani claimed the move is to “safeguard the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and to combat the evil phenomenon of terrorism and extremism in line with common regional and global interests.”
He also said Iran stressed throughout the P5+1 nuclear negotiations that it would “never negotiate with anyone about its defense power, including the missile program, and would never accept any restriction in this field, emphasizing its entitlement to the legitimate right of defense.”
“It is crystal-clear that Iran’s missile program is not at all a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – also known as the nuclear deal – and this is acknowledged by the US officials as well,” Rouhani’s decree said. “As repeatedly stated, nuclear weapons have no room in Iran’s defense doctrine, and therefore, the development and production of Iran’s ballistic missiles, which have never been designed to carry nuclear warheads, will continue powerfully and firmly as a crucial and conventional tool for defending the country.”
Last month, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stressed that Iran cannot trust the “smiles and masks” of the Americans and will be ready to violate the P5+1 deal as soon as the U.S. is perceived to be in violation of its terms. If Iran’s recent anger at the proposition of more sanctions is any indication, that “provocation” for Iran to violate the deal could be as simple as penalizing the Islamic Republic for its illegal ballistic missile tests.
Blinken said “we’re also seeing that they sustained and in some cases even deep in some of the activities that we profoundly object to from whether it is in Yemen, whether it is in Syria, et cetera.”
“But one of the things that is going on is you have a very strong hardline element in Iran that was opposed to this agreement — a nuclear agreement. And continues to try and throw wrenches in the works,” he added.
“For us the nuclear agreement is just that — a nuclear agreement. It’s not about changing the nature of Iran. That would be wonderful if it happens but that is not why we did it. We did it because it was profoundly in our security interests to make sure they couldn’t develop a nuclear weapon any time into the foreseeable future.”
Blinken again blamed Iran’s bad behavior on hard-liners who didn’t want the nuclear deal — “the ones who are most opposed to the agreement, they see it as something different.”
“They see it potentially as a Trojan horse that risks polluting and ultimately destroying the very idea of the revolution in Iran,” he said.
Blinken added that “the Iranians that we are engaged with are only one part of the system — and they are the pragmatic elements.”
“And it’s not that they like us or want necessarily to be close to us. It’s that they see the future of Iran and Iran’s interests in engaging more pragmatically with the rest of the world,” he said.
On North Korea, Blinken said “as of now we do not believe that they have the capacity to marry a small nuclear weapon to an intercontinental ballistic missile and deliver it on to the continental United States.”
“But they are getting closer to the day when they are able to do that,” the diplomat noted.
Asked if North Korea can hit the United States with an ICBM, sans warhead, Blinken replied, “Yes, possibly, but we don’t really know.”
“Look, we have worked very hard since this administration came in to put the pressure on and squeeze North Koreans. First we said we’re not going to play the same game that everyone has played which is buying the same thing repeatedly from you. You keep trying to say you will do x if we do y. We do y and then you don’t do x and then you want to do the whole thing over and again and get more. We are not going to do that,” he continued.
“Second, we tried to rally more of the international community to put the squeeze on the North Koreans to make it more difficult for them to acquire technology for their missile and nuclear programs to make it more difficult for them to proliferate and export things to get resources for those programs. we have had some success with that. But the bottom line remains with every passing day they do move forward and get closer.”