Iran and US relations grow increasingly strained after latest missile test

  • Iran tested a new ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers on Saturday.
  • This followed President Rouhani's promise on Friday to strengthen the country's missile capabilities.
  • Following the missile launch, the U.S. imposed new unilateral sanctions on Iran.
The new Iranian long range missile Khorramshahr
STR | AFP | Getty Images
The new Iranian long range missile Khorramshahr

Relations between Iran and the U.S. grew more strained over the weekend after the Middle Eastern country successfully tested a new ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers.

The Khorramshahr missile test took place Saturday; Iran state media said it could carry several warheads.

The weapon was first seen during a military parade Friday, during which Iran's President Hassan Rouhani promised to boost his country's missile arsenal.

"We will increase our military power as a deterrent. We will strengthen our missile capabilities," Rouhani said Friday in a speech broadcast on state television, according to Reuters.

The country's determination to expand its missile capabilities will remain a main source of friction between Washington and Tehran, according to Torbjorn Soltvedt, principal MENA analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

"As Iran's missile program is beyond the scope of the 2015 nuclear agreement, both sides have seized on the issue to assert their national interests while still operating within the confines of the deal," he told CNBC via email.

"For Rouhani, reasserting Iran's ballistic missile ambitions provides cover against hard-line critics that see the nuclear agreement as a capitulation to world powers."

Following the missile launch Saturday, the U.S. imposed new unilateral sanctions on Iran, saying the test violated a UN resolution, according to Reuters.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump signed a presidential order that kept travel restrictions on Iran, along with seven other countries. The order blocks nearly all visas from Iran except for students and exchange visitors. On Saturday, Trump criticized the missile test on social media.

Soltvedt said the missile tests allow Trump to expand sanctions against the country without violating the Iran nuclear deal.

"The net result is that Washington and Tehran are accusing each other of not living up to the spirit of the nuclear agreement," he said.

President Trump has previously criticized the agreement. During his address to the UN last week, he said the U.S. could not abide by the agreement if it provides cover for a nuclear weapons program.

Soltvedt added that missile tests would strain relations with Iran's Middle East neighbors.

"There is no doubt that Iran is in the ascendancy in the geopolitical battle for influence in the Middle East. Iran's ongoing efforts to boost its ballistic missile capabilities will only heighten the sense of insecurity among regional rivals," he said.

"While Iran's more assertive regional stance has put it on a collision course first and foremost with Saudi Arabia and the U.S., the pivotal role it plays in the Syrian conflict is also increasingly raising tensions with Israel."