Iran/USA — Policy Chief Describes U.S. Approach on Iran

WASHINGTON, 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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)