Iran ballistic missile test controversy leaves Washington puzzled & concerned

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016 © Mahmood Hosseini
The Iranian Defense Minister has denied carrying out a new medium-range ballistic missile test after a senior official boasted about its pinpoint accuracy, leaving the US State Department “concerned” and White House officials scratching their heads over “what exactly transpired.”

“We haven’t recently tested any missile with the range of 2,000km and with an eight meter margin of error,” Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan said Monday, reported Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency. Dehran added that the development of Iran's missile program will not stop as the country continues to increase its defensive capabilities.

Earlier, Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi was quoted by Tasnim news agency as saying that two weeks ago Iran had successfully tested a precision-guided missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles).

The White House said it is looking into the conflicting reports about Tehran’s alleged missile test.

“We’re still trying to get to the bottom of what exactly transpired,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a briefing. “We are aware of Iranian claims of an additional ballistic missile launch …we're also aware of statements from the defense minister indicating that such a launch did not take place.”

In the meantime the US State Department rushed to express concern over Iran’s “provocative and destabilizing” behavior in a potential breach of a UN Security Council resolution.

“We are aware of Iranian comments on an additional ballistic missile launched,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. “We remained concerned about Iran's ballistic missile test launch which are provocative and destabilizing.”

Tehran has carried out a series of ballistic missile tests recently. In March, the Revolutionary Guard tested short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which are not capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Last October, Iran tested a new guided long-range ballistic missile.

READ MORE: Iran needs no permission to develop its missile program – FM

The March test caused international outcry, focusing on the missile’s potential ability to strike Israel, although no country could provide any evidence that the missile had been designed to carry nuclear warheads which would be in breach of a UN resolution. Russia defended Iran’s missile tests back in March, confirming that tests of non-nuclear capable ballistic missiles did not violate the resolution that came into effect on January 16.

Iran’s ballistic tests fall within the nuclear agreement but western powers have been trying to pressure the Islamic Republic into halting them. Tehran, however, insists that its missiles are not capable of carrying nuclear warheads and it doesn’t have any unconventional weapons in its possession.