One of the top U.S. military officers says he is concerned that Iran's recent launch of a satellite could mean it is closer to developing a missile that could reach Europe and the United States, but the officer says the Iranian technology is still relatively basic.
The second ranking officer in the U.S. military, General James Cartwright, told reporters Tuesday Iran's satellite launch makes him worry.
"A space program and the technologies associated with a space program are technologies that are compatible with, commensurate with, an intercontinental ballistic missile capability," said General Cartwright. "So we have to worry about the transfer of that capability or the use of that technology."
General Cartwright is the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the number-two officer in the entire U.S. military and a senior advisor to the secretary of defense and the president. He is also an expert on missiles and space technology.
The general says the Iranian space launch could lead to the development of a long-range missile able to reach all of Europe and even the United States. But he also said Iran is not necessarily close to doing that.
"That's not an automatic," he said. "It doesn't happen in a day or two. And the work that they have done thus far is at best rudimentary, very low orbit, very minimal energy to get up there. This is not a long range missile, but it is the path towards that."
The United States has disagreed with Russia about just how quickly Iran will be able to develop a medium, or long-range missile, with Russian officials saying such a move is many years away, while U.S. officials say it could happen relatively soon. The issue is related to the U.S.-Russia dispute over the American plan to put anti-missile installations in central Europe.
The Bush Administration offered to delay activating the system until Iran tests a missile that could reach Europe, but that did not satisfy Russia. Now, the Obama Administration is reviewing the missile defense program. At a conference in Munich last week, Vice-president Joe Biden did not make a commitment on the future of the system. He said the new administration "will continue to develop missile defense to counter the growing Iranian capability" if "the technology is proven and it is cost-effective."