Biden: Iran under close watch amid reports of missile tests – Washington Post

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Vice President Biden warned Wednesday that the United States leaves open all options to take action against Iran for “conventional activity” outside a landmark nuclear deal, underscoring American concern after apparent back-to-back missile tests by Tehran.

The remarks by Biden, on a visit to reassure Israeli allies who strongly opposed last year’s nuclear pact, came as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard reported the test firings of two ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel.

Similar Iranian tests claimed Tuesday brought threats of further sanctions by the United States, which already imposed some measures on Iran following other missile tests last year.

Iranian state television broadcast video purporting to show the test firings of the missiles, which the Revolutionary Guard said were part of an Iranian arsenal able to hit Israeli targets.

The tests signaled a show of strength by Iran’s military and appeared timed to coincide with Biden’s trip. They also followed stunning gains in last month’s parliamentary elections by Iranian moderates who back President Hassan Rouhani and support the nuclear deal, which was criticized by Iranian hard-liners including some members of the Revolutionary Guard. The deal was formally implemented in January.

Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency reported that the missiles tested on Wednesday were stamped with the message in Hebrew: “Israel must be wiped out from.” However, there was no immediate confirmation of the report, and no such markings were seen in state-issued photos and video.

Missile development is not specifically prohibited under the nuclear deal, which severely limits Tehran’s uranium-enrichment and other programs to block a potential pathway toward nuclear weapons. In exchange, most international sanctions on Iran were lifted.

Iran claims it has a right to development conventional weapons and insists that the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads. But the reported tests were seen as highly provocative by the West and its allies, and brought calls for further U.S. sanctions.

Biden said the United States “will act” if Iran violates the nuclear pact. He also said close watch will be kept on all Iranian programs outside the accord.

“All their conventional activity outside the deal, which is still beyond the deal, we will and are attempting to act wherever we can find it,” he told reporters.

He repeated U.S. assurances that “a nuclear-armed Iran is an absolutely unacceptable threat to Israel, the region and the United States.”

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States and allies would “redouble” efforts seeking to limit further expansion of Iran’s missile program, but offered no specifics on possible steps.

“There is no need to doubt that the United States has Israel’s back,” Biden said following meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is a commitment that goes deeper than security.”

In one of a series of attacks Tuesday, a Palestinian went on a stabbing rampage less than a mile from where Biden spoke at a peace center in the Mediterranean port of Jaffa. An American tourist — a graduate student from Vanderbilt University — was killed and 10 people were wounded before the assailant was fatally shot by police, officials said.

It is unknown whether the assaults were timed to generate attention during Biden’s visit. But Israelis were left toggling between images on news and social media showing Biden’s Air Force Two jet landing at Ben Gurion airport and chaotic scenes of wailing ambulances and bloodstains.

At least 14 Israelis were wounded, some seriously, in the four attacks. All of the four Palestinian assailants were killed at the scenes.

Netanyahu had specifically charged that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not condemn the attacks.

Abbas’s Fatah party posted a drawing on its Twitter account Tuesday of a hand clenching a knife over a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It described the Palestinian assailant as a “hero” and “martyr.”

“The United States condemns these acts,” Biden said Wednesday, “and condemns the failure to condemn these acts.”

Later, Biden and several family members made an unannounced stop in Jerusalem’s Old City. They entered through the Jaffa Gate — scene of some of the recent attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians — and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a major pilgrimage site built upon the location where tradition says that Jesus was crucified and holds his empty tomb.

Biden was accompanied by three of his grandchildren and his daughter-in-law, Hallie Olivere Biden, who was married to Biden’s son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.

Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

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Biden: Iran under close watch amid reports of missile tests – Washington Post