The U.S. put Iran “on notice” Wednesday after the Iranian military tested a ballistic missile and allied rebels in Yemen attacked a Saudi naval vessel in the Red Sea, an early manifestation of President Donald Trump’s promise of a tougher American approach to the Islamic republic.
“Iran is now feeling emboldened,” Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters.
Delivering his first public remarks since Trump took office, Flynn didn’t elaborate on what actions the U.S. might take in response to Iran’s missile test earlier this week. But he made clear the administration’s view that President Barack Obama’s strategy of containing Iran’s destabilizing behavior while cooperating more closely on nuclear and other matters wasn’t working.
“The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions — including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms,” Flynn said.
Asked to clarify what Flynn meant by putting Iran “on notice,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, “We felt as though their actions were both provocative and in violation.”
The statement makes “sure that they understood that we weren’t going to sit by and not act on those actions,” Spicer said.
Reports of the missile test emerged after Trump signed an executive order last week, temporarily suspending immigration from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries.
As part of the final negotiations for the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, Iran agreed to an eight-year extension of a U.N. ban on ballistic missile development. The U.N. Security Council later endorsed the agreement, calling on Iran not to carry out such tests. But Iran has flouted the prohibition regularly in the past year-and-a-half, drawing sanctions from the U.S. but also diplomatic cover from Russia.
Iran’s Defense Minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan on Wednesday acknowledged the latest test and said, “We will not let any foreigner meddle with our defense issues.” He did not say when the test was carried out or specify the type of missile but insisted it wasn’t a violation of U.N. resolutions or the 2015 nuclear accord.
Flynn argued otherwise, saying Iran specifically violated the U.N.’s ban on “activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
The test ended with a “failed” re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, said a U.S. defense official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, meanwhile, claimed a successful missile strike on Tuesday against a warship belonging to a Saudi-led coalition fighting to reinstall Yemen’s internationally recognized government. The media arm of the Shiite rebels, also known as the Houthis, said the vessel was believed to belong to the Saudi Arabian navy.
Although Flynn didn’t argue that Tehran was violating the nuclear accord, his promise of a sterner American approach to Iran underscored the fragility of a deal that Trump repeatedly ridiculed as a presidential candidate.
Flynn said, “President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration, as well as the United Nations — as being weak and ineffective.”
At America’s request, the U.N. Security Council held a session Tuesday to address the missile test. The council referred the matter to its committee on Iran and asked for an investigation.
Iran has long boasted of having missiles that can travel 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), putting much of the Middle East, including Israel, in range. Such capability would also put U.S. bases in the region in danger, and Iran says its missiles are key to deterring a U.S. or Israeli attack.
In March, Iran test-fired two ballistic missiles. One was emblazoned with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” in Hebrew, sparking international outcry.