G-7 Threatens Coordinated Sanctions if Iran Provides Ballistic Missiles to Russia

The U.S. and its allies will impose coordinated sanctions against Iran if it delivers ballistic missiles to Russia for use in its invasion of Ukraine, Group of Seven leaders said in a statement Friday.

The warning is the latest escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran, which are at loggerheads over the conflict in Gaza, Tehran’s expanded nuclear program and its provision of drones and drone technology to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

U.S. officials have said that Russia’s interest to acquire Iranian missiles for use in Ukraine was clear in December when a Russian delegation visited an Iranian training area to observe ballistic missiles and related equipment displayed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, including its short-range Ababil missile. That visit followed a September visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to the headquarters of the IRGC Aerospace Force in Tehran.

U.S. and European officials repeated on Friday that they so far have no evidence that Iran has sent ballistic missiles to Russia despite press reports that Iran has already done so. However, a senior U.S. administration official said Washington continues to believe Iran will follow through on the missile transfers.

“We are extremely concerned about reports that Iran is considering transferring ballistic missiles and related technology to Russia,” the G-7 leaders said in the statement.

“Were Iran to proceed with providing ballistic missiles or related technology to Russia, we are prepared to respond swiftly and in a coordinated manner including with new and significant measures against Iran.”

There was no immediate comment from Iran’s mission to the United Nations. However the mission denied last month Tehran was sending weapons to Russia, saying on social media platform X that Iran was “morally obligated to refrain from weapon transactions during the Russia-Ukraine conflict to prevent fueling the war.”

United Nations sanctions on Iran’s trade in ballistic missiles and parts lifted in October 2023, in line with the nuclear accord. However, the EU decided to maintain its own sanctions on Iranian missiles, citing Tehran’s failure to comply with the 2015 agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Vienna Friday that Iran had been warned not to deliver ballistic missiles to Russia and he was working with European officials on a potential response.

“We sent very clear messages to Iran not to do it,” Blinken told reporters. “The concern about that eventuality and the commitment to address it, if necessary is very real and very strong.”

The senior U.S. administration said one measure that G-7 countries could take would be to effectively stop Iran Air, Iran’s flag carrier, from flying to Europe.

“Our message to the Iranians is clear: If they sell ballistic missiles to Russia, the costs will far outweigh the benefits,” the official said.

The provision of Iranian missiles would add to Russia’s firepower and further strain Ukraine’s air defenses at a time when Moscow has also acquired ammunition and ballistic missiles from North Korea. Russian forces have moved onto the offensive again in Ukraine in recent weeks.

The U.S., the European Union and Britain have already imposed targeted sanctions on Tehran for providing Russia with drones and drone technology.

The U.S. re-imposed comprehensive sanctions on Iran after the Trump administration in 2018 pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, which lifted most international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for tight but temporary limits on its nuclear work.

While U.S. sanctions blunted the bulk of trade between Europe and Iran, the refusal of European countries to follow Washington’s lead in quitting the nuclear deal meant Iran has continued to benefit from some sanctions relief.

A senior EU official said Friday that any Iranian sale of missiles to Russia would undermine Europe’s security and the EU would give a “solid answer” to that.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels next week for a summit. A draft of the statement which will be made after the meeting warns of new and significant sanctions against Iran if Tehran transfers the missiles.

The possible supply of Iranian missiles to Russia is one element in an awkward balancing act for Washington on Iran. While the two countries have avoided direct confrontation over the Gaza war, the U.S. is attacking Iran-backed militias in the region and three U.S. servicemen were killed in late January by an Iran-backed Iraqi militia.

At the same time, there has been growing alarm about Iran’s nuclear program, which has already produced enough fissile material for almost three nuclear weapons, according to the UN atomic agency. Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian, peaceful purposes.

Senior U.S. officials held indirect talks in Oman in January with Iranian officials, according to U.S. and European diplomats, to de-escalate tensions over the situation in the Red Sea, where the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have been firing on commercial shipping. Further such talks, with the Omanis mediating between the two sides, are expected.

EU trade with Iran stood at around €4.7 billion ($5.12 billion) in 2023. In addition to continued flights by Iran Air across the continent, a number of leading Iranian banks also operate in Europe.

A report by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America said this month that Iranian and European governments and businesses use a network of 15 U.S.-sanctioned Iranian bank branches that hold at least €1.9 billion in assets.

The banks, which include Bank Melli, Bank Saderat and Bank Sepah all were sanctioned by the EU and its former member, the United Kingdom, before the nuclear deal.

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal