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U.S. Officials Confirm That Iran Successfully Test-Launched A Missile This Week


Let's look now at reports that Iran has test launched a medium-range missile. This happened on Wednesday. U.S. officials say the missile was not a threat to any U.S. presence in the region.


It does, of course, come as tensions between the U.S. and Iran are running high. To talk about this, I'm joined now by David Sanger. He tracks national security and all things nuclear for The New York Times.

Hey, David.

DAVID SANGER: Great to be with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: What do we know about this launch?

SANGER: Well, this was a test launch of a missile that is not new to the Iranians. It was first put together in 1998. It actually is a variant of a North Korean missile called the Nodong. And the North Koreans and the Iranians work together a lot in their missile programs. That's always left a mystery about whether they're doing the same on the nuclear side. They've test launched these before. So as the Pentagon indicated, the big issue is not the test itself. It didn't land any place that would be a danger to anyone.

KELLY: No, it stayed inside Iran the whole time, isn't that right?

SANGER: Yes, it stayed inside Iran. And the big issue here is that they launched it at all. You'll remember that, in the 2015 nuclear agreement between the Obama administration and Tehran, it covered nuclear, but it did not cover missile tests. And this has been one of the big complaints that the Trump administration has had about the agreement and one of the reasons the president cited when he withdrew from the agreement last year.

There are, however, U.N. resolutions that at least discourage Iran from doing this and say that they cannot test a missile that could be armed with a nuclear weapon. Well, this one clearly could be. It's big enough to be armed with a nuclear weapon. But the Iranians say they're not in violation because they have no intention of building nuclear weapons.

KELLY: So do we know what they are up to here? Why are they launching this missile and why now?

SANGER: I think this was a political statement mostly to the Europeans. You'll remember that what's been going on in the past couple of weeks is that the Iranians have said, we're going to edge our way out of the 2015 nuclear agreement, produce more nuclear material than is allowed under the agreement, produce it at higher enrichment levels than is allowed, unless Europe gets serious and makes up for the money lost to American-led sanctions. And I think the Iranians are just testing a missile that can reach the edge of Europe to just make a point that the Europeans have an interest in keeping all of this together.

KELLY: The U.S. reaction to this has been pretty muted; I think it's fair to characterize it that way. In your story, you quote an anonymous U.S. military official who, again, says, hey, this posed no threat to any U.S. bases, any U.S. people in the region. Is it surprising the U.S., given how high tensions have been running, did not react with more force?

SANGER: It is a little surprising, and I'm - I don't know why that is. One possibility is that they are edging their way toward trying to figure out how to conduct some negotiations and concluded that in the end this doesn't make that big a strategic difference. The other possibility is that they reacted very mildly to some North Korean tests the other day. And of course, the president will let North Korea get away with an awful lot of things because, as he always says, I've got a great relationship with Kim Jong Un. He can't say that about the supreme leader or the president of Iran, with whom he's barely ever communicated.

So I think that we're concerned a bit that if they said something very strong about the Iranian test, people would turn around and say, well, the Iranians aren't doing anything the North Koreans haven't just done, and you could live with that.

KELLY: Thank you, David.

SANGER: Thank you.

KELLY: That's David Sanger of The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.