Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs
A. Norman Schindler on Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs
to the International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services
Subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
(as prepared for delivery)
September 21, 2000
Mr. Chairman, as Mr. Walpole indicated, I will provide a summary of Iran’s WMD programs—the programs designed to produce the weapons to be delivered by the missile systems Mr. Walpole described, as well as by other delivery means. The Iranians regard these as extremely sensitive programs and go to great lengths to hide them from us. As a result, our knowledge of these programs is based on extremely sensitive sources and methods. This precludes me from providing many details on the programs in open session. But I hope this summary will be of use to the Committee, and we are prepared to provide additional details in classified briefings.
Mr. Chairman, I’d like to begin with a few comments on Iran’s nuclear and nuclear weapons program. The Intelligence Community judges that Iran is actively pursuing the acquisition of fissile material and the expertise and technology necessary to form the material into nuclear weapons. As part of this process, Iran is attempting to develop the capability to produce both plutonium and highly-enriched uranium.
Iran is seeking nuclear-related equipment, material, and technical expertise from a variety of foreign sources, especially in Russia. Tehran claims that it is attempting to master nuclear technology for civilian research and nuclear energy programs. However, in that guise it is developing whole facilities--such as a uranium conversion facility—that could be used to support the production of fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
- Despite international efforts to curb the flow of critical technologies and equipment, Tehran continues to seek fissile material and technology for weapons development and has established an elaborate system of covert military and civilian organizations to support its acquisition goals.
Cooperation with foreign suppliers is helping Iran augment its nuclear technology infrastructure, which in turn will be useful in supporting nuclear weapons research and development. The expertise and technology gained, along with the commercial channels and contacts established—even from cooperation that appears strictly civilian in nature—could be used to advance Iran’s nuclear weapons effort.
Work continues on the construction of a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power reactor at Bushehr that will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. This project will not directly support a weapons effort, but it affords Iran broad access to Russia’s nuclear industry.
Russian entities are interacting with Iranian nuclear research centers on a wide variety of activities beyond the Bushehr project. Many of these projects have direct application to the production of weapons-grade fissile material.
China pledged in 1997 not to engage in any new nuclear cooperation with Iran but said it would complete two ongoing nuclear projects, a small research reactor and a zirconium production facility that Iran will use to produce cladding for reactor fuel. As a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is required to apply IAEA safeguards to nuclear fuel, but safeguards are not required for the zirconium plant or its products.
Mr. Chairman, the Intelligence Community continues to monitor development in the Iranian nuclear and nuclear weapons programs carefully. We regularly provide classified assessments of the progress Iran is making to the Administration, US warfighters, and the Congress. We are reluctant to provide additional details on the Iranian program - including when Iran might develop a nuclear weapon - in an unclassified setting.
I’d like to turn now to Iran’s chemical warfare (CW) program. Iran launched its offensive CW program in the early 1980s in response to Baghdad’s use of CW during the Iran-Iraq war. We believe the program remains active despite Tehran’s decision to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Iran has a large and growing CW production capacity and already has produced a number of CW agents, including nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents. We believe it possesses a stockpile of at least several hundred metric tons of weaponized and bulk agent.
Tehran’s goals for its CW program for the past decade have been to expand its production capability and stockpile, reach self-sufficiency by acquiring the means to manufacture chemical production equipment and precursors, and diversifiy its CW arsenal by producing more sophisticated and lethal agents and munitions.
Tehran continues to seek production technology, training, expertise and chemicals that could be used as precursors from entities in Russia and China. It also seeks through intermediaries in other countries equipment and material that could be used to develop a more advanced and self-sufficient CW infrastructure.
Thus far, Iran remains dependent on external suppliers for technology, equipment, and precursors. However, we judge that Tehran is rapidly approaching self-sufficiency and could become a supplier of CW-related materials to other nations.
Iran’s BW program also was initiated in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. The program is in the late stages of research and development, but we believe Iran already holds some stocks of BW agents and weapons. Tehran probably has investigated both toxins and live organisms as BW agents, and for BW dissemination could use many of the same delivery systems—such as artillery and aerial bombs—that it has in its CW inventory.
Iran has the technical infrastructure to support a significant BW program. It conducts top-notch legitimate biomedical research at various institutes, which we suspect also provide support to the BW program.
Tehran is expanding its efforts to acquire biotechnical materials, equipment, and expertise from abroad—primarily from entities in Russia and Western Europe. Because of the dual-use nature of the equipment, Iran's ability to produce a number of both veterinary and human vaccines also gives it the capability to produce BW agents.
Tehran continues to develop its BW capability despite being a party to the Biological Warfare Convention (BWC).
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I’d like to say a word about Iran’s motivations for pursuing it’s WMD programs.
We assess that Tehran—no matter who is in power—will continue to develop and expand its WMD and ballistic missile programs as long as it perceives threats from US military forces in the Gulf, a nuclear-armed Israel, and Iraq. In addition, the deterrence posture or prestige factor associated with some of these programs are probably viewed by Iranian leaders as a means to achieve their goals of becoming the predominant power in the region, asserting Iran’s ideological leadership in the Muslim world, and diminishing Western--particularly US--influence in the Gulf.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes our prepared statement. Mr. Walpole and I will attempt to answer the Committee’s questions within the constraints imposed on us by the need to protect sensitive sources and methods. We would be delighted to present the committee—or committee Members—with a more detailed assessment of Iran’s WMD programs in a closed setting.