Iran Military Prowess Advances Amid Nuclear Talks, Pentagon Says

Iran continues to develop technologies that “could be applicable to nuclear weapons,” including ballistic missiles, at the same time it’s working to complete a deal to curb its nuclear program, the U.S. Defense Department said.

Iran has “fulfilled its obligations” under the Joint Plan of Action reached with the U.S. and five other world powers and has “paused progress” in parts of its nuclear program, according to an unclassified summary from a Pentagon assessment of Iran’s military capability.

The conclusions are similar to those in last year’s version of the annual report mandated by Congress, but the new summary took into account the nuclear talks that are heading toward a self-imposed June 30 deadline. The full report, dated in January and including classified details, was submitted last week to congressional defense committees.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that while he hadn’t seen the Pentagon report, the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program are “one thing we have indicated would need to be resolved” in any accord with Iran. He also said that even successful negotiations on nuclear issues wouldn’t resolve all the U.S. concerns about Iran’s actions.

“Covert activities appear to be continuing unabated” as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps remains a key tool of Iran’s foreign policy and power projection, “particularly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen,” the Pentagon report found.

According to the assessment, Iran’s military doctrine is primarily defensive, intended to insulate the regime “from the consequence of Tehran’s more aggressive policies, such as use of covert action and terrorism, rather than as a means to project Iranian power.”

“The ongoing civil war in Syria and the instability in Iraq have tested, but not fundamentally altered, this posture,” it said.

Russian System

The doctrine “is designed to deter an attack, survive an initial strike, and retaliate against an aggressor to force a diplomatic solution to hostilities,” it said.

One example of improving its chances to survive an initial strike is Iran’s success in reaching an agreement to buy Russia’s air defense system, the S-300. Vladimir Kozhin, the Kremlin’s top official for the arms trade, said in an interview on Tuesday that Russia plans to start shipping the systems to Iran by next year.

Iran also continues to develop its capabilities to control the Strait of Hormuz -- the No. 1 global choke point for oil transit -- and avenues of approach in the event of a military conflict.

It’s “quietly fielding increasingly lethal weapon systems, including more advanced naval mines, small but capable submarines, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, coastal defense cruise missile batteries, attack craft, and antiship-capable missiles,” the Pentagon said.

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