By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States will push the U.N. Security Council to toughen its stance to prevent Iran from working on ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and carrying out test launches, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.
Pompeo also told the Security Council an arms embargo on Iran should not be lifted in 2020 and called on the council to establish "inspection and interdiction measures, in ports and on the high seas, to thwart Iran's continuing efforts to circumvent arms restrictions."
"Iran is harboring al Qaeda, supporting Taliban militants in Afghanistan, arming terrorists in Lebanon, facilitating illicit trade in Somali charcoal benefiting al-Shabaab, and training and equipping Shia militias in Iraq," Pompeo said during the meeting on the implementation of U.N. sanctions on Iran.
Russia and China - which are council veto powers along with the United States, France and Britain - are unlikely to support the measures proposed by Pompeo. In February Russia vetoed an attempt by the West to have the Security Council call out Tehran in a resolution on Yemen.
Without naming countries, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused some council members of using Wednesday's meeting "to discuss the so-called regional behavior of Iran, which they depict as though it were the only source of all the woes in the Middle East."
"What they do not voice is any kind of a substantive proposal on this topic and sometimes we're left with the impression that the only goal is to further escalate anti-Iran hysteria and to demonize Iran," Nebenzia told the council.
A 2015 U.N. resolution "called upon" Iran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. Some states argue that the language does not make it obligatory.
The United States wants the council to toughen that measure, Pompeo said, to reflect language in a 2010 resolution that left no room for interpretation by banning Iran from "activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology."
"This Security Council has a responsibility to protect citizens of the Middle East, Americans traveling through the Middle East, Europeans who are now at risk from Iranian missiles," Pompeo told reporters after the meeting.
The United States, Britain and France have accused Tehran of flouting the current U.N. restrictions on Tehran's missile program by carrying out ballistic missile launches. Iran says the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons.
Tehran's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Eshagh al-Habib accused Washington of an "addiction to sanctions and warmongering," saying Iran was in compliance with its commitments under a 2015 international nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from in May.
"What we heard today was another series of lies, fabrications, disinformation and deceptive statements by the U.S. It is not unprecedented," al-Habib told the council.
Most U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran were lifted in January 2016 when the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed that Tehran fulfilled commitments under the nuclear deal with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. But Iran is still subject to a U.N. arms embargo and other restrictions.
The U.N. sanctions and restrictions on Iran are contained in the 2015 resolution, which also enshrines the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. European powers have been scrambling to salvage the deal.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)