By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 20, 2010 - Iran may be capable of striking the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015, according to a Defense Department report submitted to Congress yesterday.
The unclassified analysis outlines near-term and longer-term threats posed by Iran, including Iran's nuclear ambitions and its desire to extend its influence in the Middle East.
"With sufficient foreign assistance," the report states, "Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States by 2015."
The report states that central to Iran's "deterrent strategy" is its pursuit of a nuclear program that could potentially move it closer to developing a nuclear weapon. Iran contends that its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes.
"Iran's nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy," the report says.
The department's release of the analysis comes on the heels of the Nuclear Security Summit and testimony by the Pentagon's top policy chief, who last week said the U.S. approach to Iran remains centered on preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons and on countering Iran's influence in the Middle East.
The Nuclear Security Summit, which convened leaders of more than 40 countries here last week, followed 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.
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week 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 written report to Congress cited Iran's influence in the Middle East -- including its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively -- and its reach into Iraq and Afghanistan. Military and defense officials have characterized such behavior as "destabilizing."
Flournoy last week said a vital component of U.S. strategy to counter Iranian influence 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, both 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," Flournoy said of efforts to build partner capacity. "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 shore up the international consensus needed to put pressure on 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."