By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 14, 2010 - The U.S. approach on Iran focuses on preventing that country from obtaining nuclear weapons and on countering its influence in the Middle East, the Pentagon's policy chief said here today.
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that President Barack Obama's administration continues to view challenges posed by Iran as a top national security concern.
"First, we are working to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," she told senators, delineating the challenges posed by Iran. "Second, we are countering Iran's destabilizing activities and support for terrorism and extremists in the Middle East and around the world."
The hearing on U.S. policy on Iran came a day after the Nuclear Security Summit, which convened leaders of more than 40 countries here, and on the heels of the unveiling of the Nuclear Posture Review, a Defense Department-led effort that represents the first overarching look at U.S. nuclear strategy since the end of the Cold War.
While the Nuclear Posture Review narrows the number of scenarios in which the United States would execute a nuclear strike, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said this week that "all options are on the table" for countries such as North Korea and Iran.
Describing the Defense Department's strategy in the region, Flournoy said the U.S. military is helping to build the confidence of American partners in the Middle East by stepping up regional security cooperation.
"Our regional security cooperation efforts not only reassure anxious states in the region," she said, "but also send a clear signal to Iran that its pursuit of nuclear weapons will lead to its own isolation and will ultimately make it less -- not more -- secure."
Speaking about the effects of Iran's nuclear ambitions on its regional neighbors, Flournoy said its nuclear and missile programs represent a "significant threat" to Israel.
"In the face of this threat, we continue our effort to ensure Israel's qualitative military edge, and we are working closely with the Israelis to develop multi-layered ballistic missile defenses," she said. "For a number of years, we have worked with the countries of the Arabian peninsula as well as other partners in the region to develop a common architecture that includes bilateral and multilateral security initiatives."
Defense officials often have pointed to Iran's destabilizing influence in the Middle East, citing its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively, and its reach into Yemen, Iraq and even Afghanistan.
Flournoy said a key U.S. strategy is to strengthen the security capacities of vulnerable states in the region, noting that both Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have traveled to the region in recent months.
"It's a vital avenue for countering destabilizing Iranian activities, and we believe we are seeing some results," she said. "In Iraq and Lebanon, for instance, our efforts to develop the capacity of security forces and improve governance have helped to weaken Iran's proxies."
The Obama administration's diplomatic overtures have helped to bolster the international consensus that's needed to pressure Iran, Flournoy said, referring to economic and other sanctions the United States and its allies are seeking to place on Iran.
"Meanwhile, our efforts in [the Defense Department] have helped to shore up the ability of our regional partners to defend themselves and to counter destabilizing activities from Iran," she said. "We have also reassured our partners that the U.S. is fully committed to their security."