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

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines 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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs