The House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a hearing on Wednesday over Iran’s ballistic missile program, which some have said threatens to derail the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran facing a June 30 deadline.
“In many ways, Iran’s missile program has been a case study in how the Obama Administration has handled its nuclear negotiations with Iran – by backing off key demands,” began Rep. Ed Royce (R-Ca) in his opening remarks.
“When negotiations kicked-off, the White House was insistent that the Iranians ‘have to deal with matters related to their ballistic missile program,’” Royce said.
But the framework agreement announced by negotiators from Iran, the U.S., U.K., Russia, China, France and Germany in Switzerland in early April did not mention Iran’s missile program. And Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it was “stupid and idiotic” for Western countries to expect Iran to reduce its missile production as part of the nuclear deal.
“The problem is that ballistic missiles are the most reliable way to deliver nuclear warheads. Indeed, as we will hear this morning, ballistic missiles are not a ‘separate and secondary’ issue – but ‘part and parcel’ of Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure,” said Royce on Monday.
Among those testifying at Wednesday’s meeting, Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior researcher at Washington DC think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, presented research indicating the scope of Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program.
Iran continues to develop an “evolving family of missiles” with the capability of striking not only targets in the Middle East as far as Israel and Turkey, but also targets in Southern Russia and Europe, according to his report. These missiles could be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction other than nuclear payloads, such as chemical weapons.
The think tank explained that Iran already uses its missile program to extend regional influence by providing proxies such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles.
Hamas fired more than 3,000 of its 10,000 rockets at Israeli targets, most of them civilian, in the war that erupted last summer. Though Israel destroyed an additional 3,000, still 3,000-4,000 rockets remain.
On Monday, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla) said “the missile program of Iran is something that never has even seemed to be seriously discussed throughout the course of these negotiations. And it’s a very, very significant issue.”
He said Iran’s missile program represented “one of the biggest strikes against” any nuclear deal once the Obama administration submits it to Congress, according to the Washington Examiner.
Iran’s ballistic missiles program was developed with help from North Korea, and many critics of the deal believe a long-range missile program is a “litmus test” for countries desiring a nuclear bomb.
“’No country that has not aspired to possess nuclear weapons has ever opted to sustain’ a lengthy and expensive missile program,” said Royce on Wednesday, quoting a witness.
He said Libya and South Africa both gave up the missile programs that went along with their nuclear ambitions, when they chose to abandon their nuclear weapons programs.