Clinton gets it wrong on Iranian nukes

Clinton gets it wrong on Iranian nukes

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the surprising assertion yesterday in Doha that an Iranian nuclear weapon would not directly threaten the United States:

“[P]art of the goal — not the only goal, but part of the goal — that we were pursuing was to try to influence the Iranian decision regarding whether or not to pursue a nuclear weapon. And, as I said in my speech, you know, the evidence is accumulating that that’s exactly what they are trying to do, which is deeply concerning, because it doesn’t directly threaten the United States, but it directly threatens a lot of our friends, allies, and partners here in this region and beyond.”

Secretary Clinton is surely correct about the threat faced by U.S. allies in the region, but her assessment of the potential threat to the U.S. does not comport with the evidence on Iran’s ballistic missile programs. Many U.S. facilities and thousands of American personnel are of course already within range of Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair recently testified (pdf) are “inherently capable of delivering WMD.”

Furthermore, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency reported (pdf) this month that “Iran continue[s] to develop long-range ballistic missiles that will be threatening to the United States,” and the U.S. intelligence community has judged in the past that Iran may test an ICBM by 2015 (see here [pdf] for a full discussion of this issue). Iran last year demonstrated progress by successfully placing a satellite into orbit. At that time, the State Department spokesman issued a statement of “deep concern,” noting:

“Recently, Iran’s development of a space launch vehicle (SLV) capable of putting a satellite into orbit establishes the technical basis from which Iran could develop long-range ballistic missile systems. Many of the technological building blocks involved in SLVs are the same as those required to develop long-range ballistic missiles.”

The Pentagon spokesman also noted the U.S. concerns over the development:

“It is certainly a reason for us to be concerned about Iran and its continued attempts to develop a ballistic missile program of increasingly long range. Although this would appear just to be the launch of a satellite, their first, obviously there are dual-use capabilities in the technology here which could be applied toward the development of a long-range ballistic missile.”

The spokesmen’s concerns were well-founded. Given the available facts, it is difficult to support the view that an Iranian nuclear weapon would not pose a direct threat to the United States.