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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Monday vowed to continue pushing for United Nations Security Council action on Iran's recent ballistic missile tests and accused Russia of looking for reasons not to respond to Iranian violations of a U.N. resolution.
"This merits a council response," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation Security Council convened at Washington's request.
"Russia seems to be lawyering its way to look for reasons not to act," she said. "We're not going to give up at the Security Council, no matter the quibbling that we heard today about this and that."
Power was referring to comments from Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who made clear that in the view of veto-wielding Russia, Iran's ballistic missile tests did not violate council resolution 2231, adopted in July, that endorsed an historic nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.
"A call is different from a ban so legally you cannot violate a call, you can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call," Churkin said. "The legal distinction is there."
Resolution 2231 "calls upon" Iran to refrain from certain ballistic missile activity. Western nations see that as a clear ban, though council diplomats say China and other council members agree with Russia's and Iran's view that such work is not banned.
Iran's U.N. mission issued a statement opposing Monday's council discussion of its missile tests. It added that statements Iranians made about Israel were merely a response to Israeli threats.
A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander was quoted recently as saying that Iran's medium-range ballistic missiles were designed to be able to hit Israel.
The tests last week drew international concern and prompted Monday's meeting of the 15-nation Security Council. Power called the tests "provocative and destabilizing."
Speaking to reporters ahead of the closed-door meeting, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon urged council members to take new "punitive measures" against Tehran over the launches, which he said were a direct threat against Israel.
"We cannot and we will not bury our heads in the sand in the hope that the Ayatollahs act responsibly," said Danon.
Israel has been a strong critic of the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers last year that relaxed most international sanctions against Tehran in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program.
Washington imposed U.S. sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for supplying Iran's ballistic missile program after a series of tests last year.
Washington has said the tests did not violate the nuclear deal, but a separate part of resolution 2231.
Editing by David Alexander, Frances Kerry and Alan Crosby