WASHINGTON—The United States and European allies sharpened their tone on Iran on Friday, demanding that it immediately halt ballistic missile tests, a day after it tested a rocket carrying a satellite.
With relations with Iran already tense, the US Treasury imposed fresh sanctions, singling out six companies owned or controlled by Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), which it said was central to the Islamic republic’s missile program, freezing their US assets and barring US citizens from dealing with them.
Foreign financial institutions could face punitive measures if they deal with the blacklisted firms, it added.
SHIG was already under United Nations, US and European Union sanctions.
The White House also indicated that President Donald Trump would sign into law a bill passed by both houses of Congress endorsing sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
In a joint statement, Britain, France, Germany and the US condemned Tehran’s “provocative” and “destabilizing” action, saying the test was in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
“We call on Iran not to conduct any further ballistic missile launches and related activities,” they added.
Resolution 2231 was passed two years ago to endorse a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
It lifted economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
The resolution called on Iran not to test ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and an arms embargo remained in place.
All four Western governments have written to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about their “concerns”, according to the joint statement.
It said the British, French and German governments are discussing the issues in talks with Iran.
The United States has had no diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic since 1980, and Trump has halted the direct contacts with Tehran initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama.
Iran denied all accusations against it and said it has “proven its compliance with the nuclear deal” as repeatedly confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Iran does not recognize any limits to its scientific and technological progress and will not wait for the approval or permission of any country regarding the activities of its scientists and experts,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.
“Tests regarding the launch of satellite-carrier rockets are Iran’s definitive right and in full compliance with our country’s international commitments.”
At UN headquarters in New York, US envoy Nikki Haley expressed mistrust of Iran.
“Iran’s widespread support for terrorists tells us we can’t trust them. Iran’s breaking its obligation on missile testing tells us we can’t trust them. Yesterday’s launch proves that yet again,” she said.
Despite his electoral promise to tear apart what he once called “the worst deal ever,” Trump has so far respected the nuclear agreement, a diplomatic success for his predecessor that advanced multilateralism and non-proliferation.
It is unclear whether his administration will continue to certify every three months that Iran is respecting the deal, or keep off economic sanctions linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
European countries say the nuclear and ballistic issues should be treated separately.
Yet the joint statement noted that Iran’s latest test features technology related to “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
In unveiling the new US sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said they “underscore the United States’ deep concerns with Iran’s continued development and testing of ballistic missiles and other provocative behavior.”
He warned that Washington would “continue to aggressively counter Iran’s ballistic missile-related activity, whether it be a provocative space launch, its development of threatening ballistic missile systems, or likely support to Yemeni Huthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia such as occurred this past weekend.”
According to the Treasury, “space launch vehicles use technologies that are closely related to those of an intercontinental ballistic missile and this launch represents a threatening step by Iran.”
Iranian state television broadcast footage of the takeoff from the Imam Khomeini space center, named after the late founder of the Islamic republic, in Semnan province in the east of the country.
The report said the launch vehicle, named Simorgh after a bird in Iranian mythology, could propel a satellite weighing 550 pounds (250 kilograms) to an altitude of 300 miles (500 kilometers).
Unlike North Korea, Iran has no intermediate range or intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching US territory. But its arsenal does include medium-range missiles capable of striking Israel or US bases in the Middle East.
Western governments suspect Iran of trying to develop the technology for longer-range missiles with conventional or nuclear payloads, a charge denied by Tehran, which insists its space program has purely peaceful aims.
Tensions have mounted between Washington and Tehran since Trump took office six months ago vowing to be the best friend of Israel.