News / Middle East

Pentagon: Iran Continues Nuclear Weapons Push, Supports Extremists

David Dyar

A new U.S. Defense Department report on Iran's military power says the country continues to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities, and to sponsor violent groups in several parts of the world.  But the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says Iran is not likely to launch a direct attack on the United States because that might result in the fall of the current regime.

The first formal Defense Department report on Iran's military capabilities says the Tehran government's main goal is its own survival, and determines the leadership has therefore adopted a primarily defensive military strategy, including high-technology defenses aimed at detecting and stopping a sophisticated attack.  

But the report also says Iran continues to work toward developing a nuclear weapon and increasingly long range missiles.  It notes that Iran has run into some problems at its main uranium enrichment facility, but says a new facility is expected to come on line next year.  The report does not estimate when Iran might be able to produce a nuclear weapon, but U.S. officials, including the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, say it could be soon.

"The general consensus -- not knowing, again, the exact number of centrifuges that we actually have visibility into -- is we're talking one year," he said.

But General Burgess also says U.S. intelligence agencies do not know whether Iran's leaders have formally made the decision to actually build such a weapon and he says because the regime is interested in its own survival is unlikely to initiate a conflict intentionally or launche a preemptive attack.

The report says Iran is also working hard on its ballistic missile capability, and claims to have a new missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers.  It says Iran has also made improvements in the accuracy and payload capacity of its missiles, and estimates the country could have a missile capable of reaching the United States by 2015 if it gets some foreign help.  The report says Iran already has short range missiles that can hit neighboring countries, and U.S. forces in the region, with conventional warheads.  And it says Iran has improved the defenses that protect its missile launch sites.

The report also says the Iranian government pursues a policy of subversion through extremist groups abroad, particularly in the Middle East.  But the report says Iranian agencies have built "operational capabilities" elsewhere, too, in recent years, even as far away as Venezuela.  It does not provide details.

But before U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Latin America last week, a senior defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said although Iran has "deepened" its relations with a few countries in the region, its influence is not widespread.   The official cited deepening Iranian relations mainly with Venezuela and Bolivia, but also to some extent with Ecuador, Nicaragua and Brazil.

In testimony last week before a U.S. Senate committee, Lieutenant General Burgess described Iran's activities abroad this way. "One principal tool employed by Iran is the active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups to serve as a strategic deterrent and intimidate and pressure other nations. This includes the delivery of lethal aid to select Iraqi Shia militants in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan," he said.

General Burgess said such activities are handled by Iran's elite, semi-independent Quds Force.  There has long been uncertainty about how much of the Force's activities are directed by the government.  But General Burgess said the Force does not operate entirely on its own.

"I think what I would say in this setting is that as I laid out in the testimony, the Quds Force, the IRGC folks, that there is some -- some control that is directed from on high. How much and within what bounds that is put on them is not something I'm prepared to go into detail on.  So when we say not a rogue force, they are not truly totally independent operators. There is some cognizance on high," he said.

The Defense Department report says the Quds Force continues to support insurgents in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan, even as the Iranian government pursues state-to-state relations with the U.S.-supported governments in those countries.

On Wednesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Iran is subverting the Iraqi and Afghan governments even as it builds official relations with them. "Clearly Iran is, when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, they continue to be duplicitous -- at some levels wishing to engage with the government, at others trying to undermine their authority, their sovereignty," he said.

But Morrell says the Iran power report, released this week, is mainly a compilation of information and analysis already made public by the Defense Department and other U.S. government agencies. "I frankly don't think that anything that was shared in the report, and I read it last night, would strike anyone in this building as new, and therefore would require an adjustment in the approach we have been taking within the building or frankly the inter-agency, the government as a whole, would be taking, toward Iran."

The report is the first of its kind and was required by the Congress.  

The Defense Department does a similar annual report about China.

The report puts Iran's annual defense spending at the equivalent of just $9.6 billion as of last year, less than two per cent of U.S. defense spending.  But the report says that does not include the activities of agencies such as the Quds Force.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs