In 2023, the Biden administration condemned Iran for advancing its nuclear program, supporting Russia in the war against Ukraine, cracking down on protesters, and backing militant proxies across the Middle East. Officials lauded the Iranian people, who faced suppression and intimidation from the regime. “The United States stands with those brave women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction and, I have to emphasize, their courage — their genuine courage,” President Joe Biden said in March to mark Nowruz, the Persian new year.
In the first quarter of 2023, the administration focused on security threats emanating from the Islamic Republic. Tehran had “sharply evolved” its military capability and was “far more capable, technologically advanced, and militarily powerful than just five years ago,” Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, warned in February. It was also the “primary driver of instability” in the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in March. President Biden stressed that the United States did not seek conflict with Iran but vowed that it would “act forcefully to protect our people” after Iran-backed proxies attacked U.S. bases in Syria in March.
Washington also cited Iran’s nuclear program as a looming threat. In January, the International Atomic Energy Agency—the U.N. nuclear watchdog—found traces of uranium enriched to 83.7 percent, very close to weapons-grade purity or 90 percent. “Iran could produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks and would only take several more months to produce an actual nuclear weapon,” Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March 2023. “The United States remains committed as a matter of policy that Iran will not have fielded nuclear weapons.” Diplomacy to revive the 2015 nuclear deal remained on hold. U.S. officials blamed Iran for rejecting a draft agreement proposed by the European Union in August 2022. The following are excerpts of remarks by U.S. officials arranged by individual in reverse chronological order.
- President Joe Biden
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken
- National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
- Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen
- CIA Director Bill Burns
- Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley
- Gen. Mark Milley (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
- Gen. Michael Kurilla (Commander of Central Command)
- Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul
- Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich (Commander of Air Forces Central)
- Vice Adm. Brad Cooper (Commander of Naval Forces Central)
- Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl
- Other Statements
President Joe Biden
On the Iranian Threat
In remarks on March 24: “And to make no mistake: The United States does not — does not, I emphasize — seek conflict with Iran, but be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people.”
Question: Mr. President, Iran keeps targeting Americans. Does there need to be a higher cost, sir?
Biden: “We are not going to stop.”
On the Nuclear Program
In a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on July 18: “As I told Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu yesterday, America’s commitment to Israel is firm and is ironclad, and we are committed as well to ensure that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons, so we have a lot to talk about.”
In remarks at a White House Nowruz reception on March 20: “Good afternoon, everyone. As we celebrate new beginnings, Jill and I, along with Kamala and Doug, are honored to host a new national tradition — and I say a “new national tradition” — the first Nowruz reception on this scale ever held in the White House. And you’re evidence of it.”
“It’s a celebration that’s been a millennium in the making, observed by millions of people around the world this very day, and the roots in ancient Persia. You know, one that was carried on by people and in the gardens of Shiraz, the mountains of Kabul and Erbil, in the shores of Baku and beyond, most of which I’ve got a chance to visit — but I got to — get to come home too. And one that has always been honored anew by diverse diaspora in communities across the United States, including all of you.
“You know, folks, it’s the start of a new year that reminds us of hope and what that lies ahead from these darkest times so many have been through.
“And we know that this year’s holiday comes at a difficult time for many families. Hope where is needed more than ever is going to be coming.
“Hope for families in Turkey and Syria, who are grieving for the loss of far too many loved ones from that devastating earthquake.
“Hope for people in Afghanistan who continue to struggle with a grave humanitarian crisis.
“Hope for women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Isn’t it amazing how young your daughters or granddaughters are — how they’re moved by what they see on television? It’s amazing. Thank God it’s hard for them to believe. It’s hard for them to believe.
“The United States stands with those brave women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction and, I have to emphasize, their courage — their genuine courage.
“And together with our partners, we’re going to continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people.
“I also want to recognize two proud Iranian-Americans with us today who know better than anyone the power of holding on to hope and the possibility of a new day. Jason — where’s Jason? He’s back there. And Yeganeh. And there’s — and Rezaian.
“Look, Jason… you were both unjustly detained in Iran. Jason for 544 days. We worked very hard to bring him home when I was Vice President. Thank you for — both for being here today.
“And to all those who are unjustly detained in Iran or anywhere in the world, know that you are not forgotten, and we will not stop trying to get you home.
“Returning wrongfully detained and people held hostage — and particularly Americans and their families — is a top priority for this administration.”
“And we’ll continue our work to bring home all Americans held hostage or unjustly detained.
“You know, in the 14th century, the Persian — the Persian poet Hasez [sic] — Hafiz — excuse me — said: ‘Out of the great need, we are holding hands and climbing.’ ‘Out of the great need, we are holding hands and climbing.’
“All around the world, wherever we need — the need is great, this holiday offers a moment to reach out — reach out and, together, to begin to climb toward a new day, one full of hope and new possibilities.
“I thank all of you. You’ve continued to spread the hope for this holiday across every part our own country.
“We see it in the homemade pastries and new presents exchanged.
“We hear it in the sound of children banging pots and in the laughs of families who’ve come together.
“And we feel it in the communities that gather to make this celebration such a joyous part of American culture, one that reflects the soul of who we are as a nation.
“You know, it’s a soul that we also see reflected at this Haft-Sin and I’m tempted to walk over. Anyway.
“The sprouts that remind us, though, that we can always begin anew. The vinegar that symbolizes the power of tolerance. The apple that inspires us to believe in a more beautiful and healthy future.
“And even the table itself — a place where we gather in unity. A place where young and old come together to honor the past and the present. A place where we may disagree and debate but we always — always there’s a seat for everyone.
“That’s America at our best: resilient, tolerant, courageous, hopeful, diverse. That’s who we are.
“We’re the only nation in the world built on an idea. Every other nation — that’s not hyperbole. Every other nation is based on things like geography, ethnicity, religion. But we’re the only nation built on an idea that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, et cetera.
“We’ve never fully lived up to it, but we’ve never, ever walked away from it. And that’s due in large part to the waves of immigrant families who have come from every part of the world to push our nation ever forward, renewing and reinvigorating our nation generation after generation after generation.
“We see that today in this very room.
“Maybe you or your parents or grandparents came to America, uncertain of what life would bring but certain you and your children and grandchildren would be able to do anything you wanted to do here, try it.
“You’ve grown up seeing your children forged by their heritage but also the kinds of friendships found every day in American things — soccer practice, band practice — just those special times, and all the things that make an extraordinary life in our generation — in our great nation.
“And thanks to all of you for enriching the soul of this nation. Thank you for adapting old traditions anew to tell the ongoing story of America, one firmly stamped by your experiences.
“Let me close with this. Few periods have been more challenging to our world than the one we’re going through right now. And we face an inflection point. I had a professor who said, ‘An inflection point is when you’re going down the highway at 65 miles an hour and you radically turn five degrees to the right. You can never get back on the course you were on.’
“Well, recent decisions — points — the decisions we make today are going to determine the course of our future for the next several decades to come.
“Now more than ever, we need you — we need you — engaged in the work of our time to help fulfill the promise of this nation — the same promise of opportunity, equality that brought you and your families here in the first place.
“That’s what I hope for this very day: to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of community, to keep the faith in our country.
“’Out of a great need, we’re all holding hands and climbing.’
“We have to keep climbing.
“I’ve never been more optimistic in my life about the future of this country. And I mean that sincerely.
“Let’s remember who in God’s name we are. We are the United States of America. And there is nothing — I mean this from the bottom of my heart: There is nothing — nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.
“Happy Nowruz to all of you and your families. And may God bless you all.”
“Folks, you know, the Persian culture is amazing. As a student of the Persian culture — not a practitioner, but a student — it’s incredible where the world is, where the world wouldn’t have been without — without the culture. I really mean it.
“If you’ll excuse me for quoting a non-Persian poet that relates to today — because I know the hope in all your hearts, your desire — I mean, it’s real. You can feel it in this room, just the looks on your faces, those of you who still have folks back there.
“Well, other people who have been persecuted as well have had poets that talk about their future. One of my favorite poets happens to be an Irishman named Seamus Heaney, and Heaney wrote a poem called ‘The Cure at Troy.’ And there’s a stanza in the poem that I think reflects what all of you are thinking, should be thinking, and will succeed in doing. He said,
“’History [teaches us not to] hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
[That] longed-for tidal wave
Of justice [rises] up,
And hope and history rhyme.’
“It’s my sincere hope we’re doing everything in our power — everything in our power to make that happen. It’s an incredible, incredible culture. Incredible people.
“And thank you for being here. Thank you for making this day known to all Americans, because everybody watched this. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you’ve done. You’re amazing! Remember who you are.”
In separate statement on March 20: “The Nowruz holiday brings loved ones together around the Haft-Sin table to reflect on the year that has passed and renew hope for the year ahead. This year, Nowruz comes at a difficult time for many families, when hope is needed more than ever—including for the women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The United States will continue to stand with them, and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction and courage. And together with our partners, we will continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people.
“As we welcome the season of spring—and the new growth and possibility it brings—we have decorated our Haft-Sin table at the White House to reflect our hopes for the new year. And, we join Americans everywhere in celebrating the diverse diaspora communities who continue to strengthen the fabric of our nation, generation after generation. To everyone celebrating, Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak—we wish you a peaceful and prosperous new year.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken
On the Iranian Threat
In an interview with Asharq News on June 8:
Question: “You arrived here on Tuesday the same day the Iranians – they opened their embassy in Riyadh. And it was the outcome of a deal brokered by the Chinese. I know people are realistic about the deal and the expectations, but would it (inaudible) to see this move by the Chinese – does it concern you to see in this region this assertive diplomacy by the Chinese?”
Blinken: “We applaud what happened. Anything that de-escalates tensions, that takes at least one problem off of the agenda, and in this case also may have the additional benefit of helping to advance a peace in Yemen, we think is a good thing.”
In a joint press availability with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud on June 8: “The United States and Saudi Arabia, together with the GCC, are also focused on Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region, including its support for terrorism and violent militia groups, the seizure of tankers transiting international waters, and nuclear escalation. The United States continues to believe that diplomacy, backed by economic pressure, by deterrence, and by strong defense cooperation, is the best way to avoid counter these dangerous actions. We support efforts by Saudi Arabia to de-escalate tension and stabilize relations.”
In remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on June 5: “Now, we’re clear-eyed about the many dangers that Israel faces in all of their forms. But there is no danger that Israel faces that is graver than the one posed by the Iranian regime.
“That regime routinely threatens to wipe Israel off the map. It continues to provide weapons to terrorists and proxies like Hizballah and Hamas, who reject Israel’s right to exist. It exports its aggression throughout – and even beyond – the region, including by arming Russian forces with drones that are being used to kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy its infrastructure. And in turn, Russia is providing sophisticated weaponry to Iran.
“The pattern of hostile behavior underscores a clear imperative, which you heard from Michael: Iran cannot and will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to verifiably, effectively, and sustainably prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. In parallel, economic pressure and deterrence reinforce our diplomacy. If Iran rejects the path of diplomacy, then – as President Biden has repeatedly made clear – all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.
“This three-pronged approach – diplomacy, economic pressure, deterrence, which also includes strengthening Israel’s miliary capabilities – has bipartisan support, and it puts us in the strongest possible position to address the Iranian nuclear threat, just as we take on the many other challenges posed by the Iranian regime.”
In remarks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 30: “We agree that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, and we discussed deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond.”
In an interview with Al Arabiya on January 29:
Question: So is this military maneuvering or exercise with the Israelis and other people in the Gulf meant to deter Iran activities in the region?
Blinken: “All of our military efforts are designed with the idea of deterrence in mind – that is, to try to make sure that a would-be aggressor thinks twice, thinks three times, and then doesn’t do it. That’s what deterrence is all about. And it’s important to be able to demonstrate that and to make sure that you’re ready if aggression comes. And if deterrence doesn’t work, that you’re also in a position to effectively defend yourself.”
In remarks on August 10: “With regard to the five Americans who are being wrongfully detained in Iran, first, it’s a positive step that they were released from prison and sent to home detention. But this is just the beginning of a process that I hope and expect will lead to their return home to the United States. As you’ve heard me say many times, I have no higher priority than looking out for the security, safety, and well-being of Americans around the world and, in particular, doing everything that we possibly can to bring home those who are being wrongfully detained in a number of countries, including in Iran.
“In this case of the five, their detention in prison in many cases predates this administration, so it’s been going on for a long time. One has been incarcerated wrongfully in Iran for eight years. So this is a positive step. But I don’t want to get ahead of its conclusion because there is more work to be done to actually bring them home. My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare and the nightmare that their families have experienced. I’m also not going to get into any of the details about what we’re doing or engaged on because I don’t want to jeopardize the completion of this process and the return home of our fellow citizens.
“Let me be clear about a couple of things, though: In any event, in any respect, Iran will not be receiving any sanctions relief. And in any instance where we would engage in such efforts to bring Americans home from Iran, Iran’s own funds would be used and transferred to restricted accounts such that the monies can only be used for humanitarian purposes, which, as you know, is permitted under our sanctions. There’s an exemption for humanitarian that’s there from the start.
“We will continue to enforce all of our sanctions. We will continue to push back resolutely against Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond, including now in supplying Russia with drones for its war of aggression against Ukraine. And none of these efforts take away from that. These are entirely separate tracks. We focused on getting our people home, but we continue to take strong action against Iran’s other activities that we and so many other countries profoundly object to.
“The State Department has been in contact with the five Americans. We spoke to them today. I think they’re, needless to say, very happy to be out of prison, but we want to make sure that we complete this process and bring them home to their families. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with the families over the last two and a half years. I know what this has meant to them: the separation from their loved ones, the questions every single day about their well-being, and the unanswered questions about when they’ll come home. Well, now, we’re on a track to do that, but we need to finish this process.”
Question: “Any Americans still in Iranian prison?”
Blinken: “I’m not aware of anyone beyond the five that we’re talking about.”
Question: “No U.S. permanent residents?”
Blinken: “Again, I’m not – I’m not aware of any beyond the five of – American citizens.”
On Iran-Russia Ties
In remarks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 30: “Just as Iran has long supported terrorists that attack Israelis and others, the regime is now providing drones that Russia is using to kill innocent Ukrainian civilians. In turn, Russia is providing sophisticated weaponries to Iran. It’s a two-way street. Russia’s ongoing atrocities only underscore the importance of providing support for all of Ukraine’s needs – humanitarian, economic, and security – as it bravely defends its people and its very right to exist, a topic that we also discussed today.”
On the Nuclear Program
With Fareed Zakaria of GPS, CNN on July 23: “We’re now in a place where we’re not talking about a nuclear agreement. We are very clearly making it known to them that they need to take actions to de-escalate, not escalate, the tensions that exist in our relationship across a whole variety of fronts. We’ll look to see if they do that. Maybe we’ll have an environment where we can get back into a conversation about their nuclear program. Right now we’re not in it, but of course, we’re not standing around doing nothing. We are continuing to work out, to develop, to flesh out every possible option for dealing with the problem if it asserts itself.
“Keep in mind, of course, that the fissile material, which is what the deal was designed around, is one critical piece. Weaponization, actually having an explosive device, is another. To the best of our judgment and that of many others, they have not pursued that work in a number of years. If they were to restart that part of the program, too, and these two things came together, then it would become an even more urgent problem. But we are working across a whole series of lines of effort to push back on them, to make sure we have a strong deterrent, to make sure we have the appropriate pressure, and then to see if we get back to an opportunity where we can work on a nuclear deal.
“We continue to believe strongly that diplomacy is the best way to resolve this problem, that compared to all the other options, it’s the one that can produce the most sustainable, effective result. But that doesn’t mean that the other options aren’t there and, if necessary, we won’t resort to them.”
In remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations on June 28: “We’ve believed from day one two things. We have a commitment that President Biden strongly adheres to, which is that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. We also believe diplomacy is the most effective way to actually get that result – the most sustainable and the most effective. So we pursued that path. We tried to see if we could get back to mutual compliance with the Iran nuclear agreement, the so-called JCPOA. And we made a very good faith effort working closely with our European partners and actually, in this instance, working with China and Russia, and at the point at which that looked possible, Iran either couldn’t or wouldn’t do what was necessary to get back into compliance. And that goes back now many, many months. So there is no agreement in the offing, even as we’re – we continue to be willing to explore diplomatic paths.”
“And at the same time, we’ve been building up our deterrence, and we have been working closely with partners in the region to do just that, as well as continuing to take a whole variety of measures to push back against Iranian misbehavior in different areas, but there’s no agreement in the offing. I think whether Iran chooses itself to take actions – or maybe better put, not to take actions – that further escalate the tensions not only between us but with other countries, we’ll see by their actions.”
In an interview with Asharq News on June 8:
Question: “Are you trying to revive the negotiations over the JCPOA?”
Blinken: “So we, from day one, sought to determine whether a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA was possible, and we made a significant effort in that direction, as did the European partners, and, for that matter, Russia and China. But Iran either couldn’t or wouldn’t do what was necessary to get back into compliance with the JCPOA. So the JCPOA is not our focus.
“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way more generally to sustainably, verifiably, and effectively ensure that Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon. So we remain open to diplomacy, and that is clearly the best path. At the same time, we’re also very determined to stand against the actions that Iran takes that are dangerous, destabilizing, and that was very much the – part of the conversation that we had yesterday with our colleagues at the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
In remarks at a press availability on February 21: “We are committed together to the proposition that Iran never acquire a nuclear weapon. That’s not exactly news. The President’s been very clear that every option is on the table to do that. And we’re also working to deepen our cooperation and coordination with Israel, as well as with other countries to deal with the multiplicity of challenges that Iran poses, including advances in its nuclear program.”
“At the same time, we’ve also been clear that the Iran nuclear deal, the so-called JCPOA, is not now on the table. We spent many months to seeing if we could revive it and return to mutual compliance. There was a proposal put forward by the European Union some months ago that was endorsed by everyone – China, Russia, as well as the United States – and Iran would not go forward with that.”
“Countries will make sovereign decisions for their own security. And of course, that’s no different when it comes to Israel or any country. We can’t make those decisions for them.”
In an interview with Al Arabiya on January 29:
Question: I wanted to start with Iran. The administration said that this is not the right time to go back to the JCPOA. Your President described it as dead. Yet, you don’t prefer the military option. How can you stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?
Blinken: “First, Iran had an opportunity to get back into the JCPOA at the end of this past summer. Unfortunately, they rejected what was on the table and had been agreed to by everybody. Their either wouldn’t move forward with it. Now our focus is on the many things that have happened since, including the horrific repression of the Iranian people on the streets of Iran as young people, women in particular, have been standing up for their basic rights, and very important communities across Iranian society are doing the same thing and are being repressed violently by the regime.
“At the same time, we’re also seeing Iran support Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine, providing it with drones and potentially other weapons systems. So that’s where the focus is and that’s the concern of many countries around the world.
“At the same time, yes, we continue to believe that the most effective way to deal with the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is through diplomacy. Diplomacy is never off the table. But President Biden has also made clear that we’re determined that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon, and every option remains on the table to ensure that that doesn’t happen. But our preferred path would be diplomacy.”
Question: Including military option?
Blinken: “Everything is on the table.”
In remarks at a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on January 17: “With regard to the JCPOA, the Iranians killed the opportunity to come back to that agreement swiftly many months ago. There was an opportunity on the table that they rejected, an opportunity that was approved by all who were involved – the Europeans, the United States, Russia and China even at the time. And so the JCPOA has not been on the agenda as a practical matter for many months now. It’s not our focus. We’re focused on what’s happening in Iran. We’re focused on what Iran is doing in terms of the provision of weapons to Russia to use against innocent people and the entire energy grid in Ukraine. And of course, we’re focused on its other destabilizing activities throughout the region.
“What is also very much in our focus is the President’s commitment, President Biden’s commitment that Iran never acquire a nuclear weapon. Now, we continue to believe that the most effective way to do that is through diplomacy, and we saw the results and success of diplomacy when it comes to the original JCPOA, which put Iran’s nuclear program in a box. And it was a terrible mistake to have torn up that agreement and walked away from it, and now we’re dealing with the results. The results include, as the foreign secretary said, Iran making very significant progress on its nuclear program, and that represents an additional challenge to the other things that Iran has engaged in. But, as I said, the JCPOA right now is not on the table.
“Last thing I’ll say is that when it comes to diplomacy in general, you tend to spend a chunk of your diplomacy engaging with countries with whom you have profound disagreements or worse, including outright adversaries. That’s the nature of what we do. And the one thing that’s clear is that engaging in diplomacy, including with those who are engaged in outrageous actions, is sometimes necessary to try to advance our interests, and it never takes the word “no” from our vocabulary.”
In remarks on March 28: “In Iran, courageous women are marching in the streets, under great threat to themselves, to call for “woman, life, and freedom.”
“The United States stands in solidarity with these women and all who are working for women’s full, free, and equal participation around the world. Through our diplomacy, we’re committed to supporting them and advancing gender equality worldwide.”
In remarks on March 20: “I wish a happy Nowruz to all those celebrating around the world. I hope the new year brings you happiness, health, and prosperity.
“Nowruz is a symbol of rebirth. It is an opportunity to spend time with family and friends by the haft sin table, sharing wishes for the year ahead. Nowruz is also an opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed, which has been particularly hard for many who celebrate. The people of Iran have faced a brutal crackdown at the hands of the Islamic Republic. Many families face an empty chair at their Nowruz table this year, as friends and family members have been killed or detained by Iranian authorities. On the occasion of Nowruz, we reiterate our commitment: the United States will continue to defend your human rights and to support you as you seek a brighter future.
“Nowruz and its positive message of rejuvenation cross many cultural, linguistic, and political boundaries. Wherever you celebrate, we hope you are blessed and rejuvenated by the coming of the new year. Nowruz Pirooz, Nowruz Mobarak!”
In an interview with Al Arabiya on January 29:
Question: You talked about the regime. The regime has been executing demonstrators after a sham trial. How can you support people who have been calling for help actually from the West and particularly from the United States?
Blinken: “We have been, with many other countries, standing up and speaking out for those who are simply trying to have their voices heard and their rights upheld. We’ve gone after those who have been involved in repressing them, and through sanctions, through designating them in various ways. We’ve sought to help the Iranian people be able to continue to communicate with each other as well as with the rest of the world through communications technology. And of course, we continue to look for ways to disrupt the malicious activities that they’re engaged in.
“But I think there’s tremendous solidarity around the world with the Iranian people, who are simply trying to have their basic rights respected by the regime.”
Question: The United States always support people who want to change the regime that oppresses them. Why not the case with Iran?
Blinken: “We support the Iranian people, but these decisions are theirs. They’re not ours. They’re not anyone else’s. One of the things that we don’t want to do is to somehow make this about us. That’s exactly what the Iranian regime wants. They want to say to their own people, “Oh, no, this is somehow the work, the design of some outside power,” the United States or someone else. It’s not. It reflects a profound misunderstanding of their own people if they believe that somehow we’re responsible for this, and it reflects a profound weakness. They’re afraid of their own people.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
On the Nuclear Program
On CBS News "Face the Nation" on July 16: "We have tried very hard to secure the release of the four unjustly detained Americans in Iran, we have done so since the day that President Biden took office. We have had indirect contact with Iran on this in an effort to try to get a deal that could get them released. We have not arrived at an understanding that would get them out at this point. We are continuing to work at it. My hope is that we will get it done. But unfortunately today, Margaret, I don't have anything to announce."
"With respect to the nuclear program, we're not close to any kind of a deal."
At the Arms Control Association Annual Forum on June 2: "On Iran—after the previous Administration’s departure from a deal that put strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear development, and prevented it from obtaining a nuclear weapon—Iran’s nuclear program was left unconstrained.
"As a result, Iran is now operating more advanced centrifuges. It has enriched more uranium, including at levels closer to weapons grade. And it has done so with less international monitoring of its program, than when it was under the strict constraints of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."
At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on May 4: "We are also engaging Iran diplomatically regarding its nuclear program, and we continue to believe that it was a tragic mistake to leave the deal with nothing at all to replace it. But we have made clear to Iran that it can never be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon. As President Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed, he will take the actions that are necessary to stand by this statement, including by recognizing Israel’s freedom of action."
Question: "So the first question I’m going to ask you is about deterrence. Now as you just reaffirmed, the president has committed himself like other presidents before him to ensuring that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon. And you affirmed as well that the preferred method to achieve this is diplomacy, but there are other means if necessary, if forced to. And we’ve heard from senior American officials recently as well that Iran may be as little as ten or twelve days away from a military-grade level of enrichment. And today the Israeli defense minister said in Greece that he believes Iran already has five bombs’ worth of 60 percent enriched material.
"So let me ask you: in your view, is our deterrent strategy working? And if we’re short on that, what is the missing ingredient to strengthen our deterrence?"
Sullivan: "So let me start by saying as I did in my speech that the best way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is an effective agreement that stops them from getting a nuclear weapon. And I regard the decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, without anything to replace it or any strategy to deal with it other than the imposition of sanctions—which we have continued and added to actually—is not necessarily a pathway to a clear and straightforward answer to your question.
"Because in my view, before the JCPOA, Iran was also sitting on multiple bombs’ worth of lower-enriched-grade uranium, and the JCPOA forced them to basically get rid of all of that. And we should get back to a deal in which—whether it’s five bombs or whatever it may be of 60 percent—that that also goes by the board.
"So from my perspective we are back in a position that we were in before—where Iran is enriching, is advancing—and that this nuclear program poses a genuine challenge to our fundamental nonproliferation goals, and we remain determined to ensure that that challenge does not cross the line to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. And yes, we will take the necessary action to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. At the end of the day, that’s the fundamental test: Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. They do not today, and they cannot have one.
"Now, you know, some part of me is sort of like, “They’re accumulating enriched uranium; they would not be accumulating enriched uranium if we were still in the deal; they are because we’re not in the deal.” So it’s a kind of strange position for me to be in to kind of defend a strategy of being out of the deal when, you know, I was one of the people who helped kind of pave the way for it in the first place.
"But what I will simply say is that on the deterrence side, working with our partners—including working very closely with Israel, including through that military exercise that I described before, but also through intensive sessions that I have personally participated in with everyone from the prime minister to the national security advisor to the minister of defense—we will continue to send a clear message about the costs and consequences of going too far, while at the same time continuing to seek the possibility of a diplomatically brokered outcome that puts Iran’s nuclear program back in the box.
"That is what we think is ultimately the best way to achieve the outcome we are looking for. And we think the best way to do that also is to do it flanked by allies and partners who are fundamentally bought into our strategy. And that includes our European allies and partners who have joined us on both the deterrence side and the diplomacy side.
"So this is an issue that occupies the president’s attention, my attention, on a daily basis. Iran’s program has advanced considerably. It is a genuine danger to regional security and to global security, and, indeed, to the United States of America. And we are going to continue to take action to, yes, deter Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and then to seek a diplomatic solution that puts this on a long-term pathway of stability."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
On the Iranian Threat
In Senate testimony on March 28: “Iran’s nuclear program, its dangerous proxies, its support for terrorism, its cyber threats, and its proliferation of one-way attack unmanned aerial systems (UAS) all undermine Middle East security and threaten U.S. forces and Partners. We have acted decisively when Iran-backed militia groups have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.”
“This budget request seeks to tackle these persistent challenges through investments in integrated air and missile defense, maritime domain awareness, and counter-UAS systems. We have repeatedly demonstrated our ability to deploy combat-credible forces into the region to deter potential Iranian aggression, and we will continue to take necessary and proportionate military action to defend U.S. forces and facilities from attack, or threat of attack, from Iran or Iran-backed proxies.”
Question: How many attacks has Iran or its proxies launched against American positions in Iran [Iraq] and Syria since Joe Biden took office?
Austin: “There’s been 83 attacks, I think, in the last several years.”
Question: How many times have we retaliated against Iran or its proxies?
Austin: “We've launched four major strikes, Senator, but an attack can consist of a number of things—it can consist of a rocket that's fired in the direction of one of our bases but not effective.”
Question: Secretary Austin, I appreciate that in this latest instance, last week, the U.S. responded with airstrikes against individuals connected with the IRGC, but just as you told my colleague... we know there been about 83 such attacks by Iranian proxies on U.S. forces in Syria in the past two years alone. We've only retaliated four times. Why has the United States responded so infrequently, particularly when these militias are the most pervasive threat to U.S. and coalition forces in the region?
Austin: “First of all, as was stated earlier, our troops have the ability to certainly protect themselves and there have been local responses to certain types of activity, and our troops always have the ability to do that. In terms of major responses, strikes. You're right. There's only been four of those. At the three tours I spent in Iraq, I can tell you that me and my troops received a lot of attacks from Iranian--but when we respond, we want to make sure that Iranian-backed militias--we want to make sure that we are going after the element that's responsible for whatever that activity is. So it takes a little time to develop attribution, and then we want to make sure that we are holding the right element accountable, and we're doing everything that we can to protect our troops. So all of those things go into our consideration when we plan a response option.”
Question: Secretary Austin, can you tell us, do our commanders who I know want to do more have the necessary authorities to target Iran's proxies other than the ability for self-defense?
Austin: “I think we do, Senator, and this is something that we need to continue to review as we go forward. And we certainly have the right to self-defense.”
In a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on March 9: “Much of our discussion today focused on the threats posed by Iran. Iran remains the primary driver of instability in the region and we remain deeply concerned by Iran's support for terrorism, its dangerous proxies, its nuclear advances, its aggression at sea, its cyber threats, and its proliferation of attack drones and advanced conventional weapons.”
“Iran's destabilizing actions are not just a threat to Israel, they are a challenge to the region and to the world. We're especially concerned by Iran's growing strategic partnership with Russia, including using Iranian drones to terrorize and kill innocent civilians in Ukraine.”
In remarks on March 7: “Unfortunately, Daesh is not the only threat that this region [the Kurdistan region of Iraq] faces. The United States condemns the repeated cross-border attacks from Iran. These attacks violate Iraqi sovereignty, put Iraqi lives in danger, and hold the Iraqi people back.”
At the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum on January 10: “Going back to my days at CENTCOM, I have consistently said that the greatest threat to Israeli security, and to the region, is the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“We fully understand the dangers of the Iranian government’s destabilizing actions—including its support for terrorism, its dangerous proxies, and its threats to wipe Israel off the map.”
“But Iran is also stoking instability across the region—including its support for terrorists and militias, its proliferation of drones, its menacing cyber activities, its maritime aggression, and its continued threats against foreign officials.
“So Iran’s reckless actions don’t just threaten Israel. They endanger the entire Middle East and beyond, including by supporting Russia’s cruel targeting of civilians in Ukraine.
“And increasingly, U.S. partners understand the importance of a regional approach to this kind of shared danger. So we’re working closely with Israel, our partners in the Middle East, and our allies and partners to impose coordinated pressure on the Iranian regime.”
On the Nuclear Program
In a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on March 9: “We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. As President Biden has repeatedly made clear, the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Question: Hi, Secretary Austin. Thanks so much for coming to Israel. The IAEA chief, Rafael Grossi, recently announced a new deal with Iran, expressed a lot of optimism about a return to the JCPOA but had downplayed the 84 percent uranium enrichment issue. He said, you know, maybe it was a mistake. How dangerous do you think the 84 percent enrichment issue was, since it's so close to the 90 percent weaponized uranium enrichment level? And how decisive should that be regarding Israeli and American policy in Iran not just this week, but in the coming months? Thank you.
Austin: “This is yet another example of Iran's dangerous nuclear advances, and of course, I am deeply concerned. President Biden's preference is to explore all diplomatic avenues to ensure that we constrain Iran's progress in this field, and so we would look to continue at t work to make sure that we constrain their dangerous advances. And my job as secretary of defense, as you know, is to provide the president options, if he so desires.”
In remarks on March 6:
Question: So with Iran no longer bound by the JCPOA, what is the U.S. doing to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threat?
Austin: “Well, you've heard the President say a number of times that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. And of course, if things evolve, we need to take action to prevent that from happening, then, you know, my job as Secretary of Defense is to make sure that I'm providing the President with the right options.”
At the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum on January 10: “Unfortunately, Iran has repeatedly refused to engage in meaningful diplomacy on the nuclear front, and now they are taking actions across numerous fronts that make diplomacy even harder.
“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
“But let me be clear. The United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. And if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all the options necessary to keep the United States secure.”
On Iran-Russia Ties
In Senate testimony on March 28: “As Iran deepens its partnership with Russia, including Russian military support to Tehran in return for Iranian one-way attack UAS to deploy in Ukraine, we are developing and fielding effective approaches to counter the proliferating threats from Iran’s UAS.”
In a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on March 9: “Over the past year, Russia's military cooperation with Iran has deepened, and that poses serious challenges for this region and for the safety of your citizens. Iran is gaining important battlefield expertise and experience in Ukraine that will eventually transfer to its dangerous proxies in the Middle East.
“In return for Iranian support in Ukraine, Russia has been offering Iran unprecedented defense cooperation, including on missiles and air defense. And all that just reminds us of the stakes as Russia's cruel and unprovoked war of choice enters its second year.”
In remarks on March 6:
Question: My follow-up is regarding Iran's relationship with Russia. Do you see that as a growing relationship? And does that relationship have the potential to launch Iran to becoming a world power, a world threat?
Austin: “Russia has, throughout this conflict, they've gone through tremendous amount of their weapons and munitions. And so now we see them in a position that they're reaching out to other countries around the globe to get additional capability.
“Iran is foremost among the countries that they've engaged and we've seen Iran most recently provide one way attack UAVs to Russia. Russia's used those UAVs to attack critical infrastructure in Ukraine, and that's caused the injury and death of a number of civilians.
“What Iran is doing is really unthinkable and certainly in terms of the region, for the future of the region, it's a really bad thing. They're getting more experienced as they employ these UAVs in Ukraine, and that doesn't bode well for the region here.
“We also expect that Russia will provide technology back to Iran in return for some of the help that they've gotten. And of course, if you're a country in this region, you'd be very concerned about that, and they are. All of the countries are very concerned about that.
“So this relationship is very troubling and one that we need to keep an eye on and discourage Iran from that kind of activity going forward.”
At the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum on January 10: “During this cruel winter, Russia has been using drones from Iran to kill Ukrainian citizens. In the process, Iran is gaining important battlefield experience and forging a strategic relationship with Russia.
“That’s deeply, deeply troubling. It’s a problem for American security, for Israeli security, and for global security. And it just underscores the importance of standing up for what’s right.”
At the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum on January 10: “Now, the Iranian government’s recent outrages have only deepened our conviction and concern. The regime has killed, beaten, and jailed its own citizens for daring to speak out against its repressive rule. And we’re deeply moved by the courage of the Iranian people in standing up for their basic rights.”
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen
On the Iranian Threat
In House testimony on March 23: “Our sanctions on Iran have created real economic crisis in the country, and Iran is greatly suffering economically because of the sanctions ... Has that forced a change in behavior? The answer is much less than we would ideally like.”
“[The United States has imposed] the toughest possible sanctions on Iran.”
“Sometimes a regime is so committed to a program, that even when the population of that country is suffering immensely because of sanctions we’ve imposed, they continue to prioritize activities that are the ones we’re trying to stop.”
“[The Treasury Department needs] a broader tool kit... Sanctions can play a role in changing behavior but they may not be sufficient.”
CIA Director Bill Burns
On Iran-Russia Ties
At the Aspen Security Forum on July 20:
Question: Why is Iran arming Russia in Ukraine?
Burns: Because the defense partnership between Russia and Iran right now is a useful two way street.
Question: What is Iran getting?
Burns: We have seen signs of the Russians--Russian technicians--working on the space launch vehicle program in Iran and other aspects of their missile programs. We have seen discussion at least of the possibility of the Russians providing advanced combat aircraft to Iran, which expands the threat from the innocent Ukrainian civilians. And I’ve seen this on my own visits to Kiev, when Shahed 136s and other armed Iranian drones have been used indiscriminately against Ukrainian civilians.
But the provision of advanced combat aircraft obviously creates threats to our friends in the region as well. So it’s a two way street and in many ways that is what is most troubling about that defense partnership.
In remarks at Georgetown on February 2: “Especially concerning is the deepening of Iranian-Russian military connection as well. Last time I was in Kyiv a couple of weeks ago, of the 30 hours or so I was in Ukraine, I spent six of them in bomb shelters because of two separate strikes by the Russians against Ukrainian civilian facilities, many of them by Shahed-136 Iranian UAVs that had been supplied to the Russians, which they’ve been using to kill innocent Ukrainian civilians. So that’s obviously very troubling as well.”
In remarks at Georgetown on February 2: “As we look ahead at 2023…the Middle East is going to reemerge as a particularly complicated set of challenges for American policymakers.
“Part of that is about Iran. It’s about an Iranian regime that is increasingly unsettled by what’s going on inside Iran. The remarkable courage of demonstrators over the course of the last few months—especially young Iranian women—who I think in many respects are fed up…with economic decay, they’re fed up with corruption, they’re fed up with political oppression, they’re fed up with social restrictions that especially affect Iranian women. They’re fed up with a lack of dignity.
“And none of this is about us. It’s not about Americans. It’s about Iranians and their future.
“This is an Iranian regime that is capable, in the short term, of suppressing people. Their habits of repression are pretty well practiced. But I don’t think they have good answers for what’s on the mind of a very young population, 70% of which is under the age of 30 as well.
“That unsettled view of what’s going on internally in Iran is leading to more aggressive behavior externally by this Iranian regime. We see it across the Middle East right now.”
Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley
On the Iranian Threat
In remarks posted on Twitter on January 31: “When President Biden came into office, Europe spent as much time criticizing the US as it did criticizing Iran because of the positions that the Trump Administration took.
“Today we are united with Europe on … every aspect of our policy towards Iran. And that’s very important and that is a message that Iran is now hearing loud and clear from us, from Brussels, from Paris, from London. It is the same message about the support for Russia, about the oppression of their people, about their nuclear program.”
On Iran-Russia Ties
In an interview with the BBC aired on January 30: “What we’re asking for is very simply for Iran to come back into compliance with its non-proliferation obligations and to stop supporting Russia in a war of aggression.”
On the Nuclear Program
In an interview with NPR on May 30:
Question: “How close is Iran to a bomb?”
Malley: “The answer to that question is in two parts. First is the question of enrichment of uranium. And we know - we've said publicly that they're only a couple of weeks away from having enough - if they decided to enrich uranium to weapons-grade, they'd be very close to having enough for one bomb.”
“Our intelligence community has made the assessment public that we believe that at this point, they have not made the decision to pursue a bomb. We're not going to rest on that assessment. And that's why it's very important for us and President Biden has made clear that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. We will use deterrence to make clear to them that all options are on the table if we conclude that they're taking steps that are tantamount to a decision to acquire bomb. But we also will pursue diplomacy because we think that's the most verifiable and sustainable way to prevent them from getting a bomb.”
Question: “When you say all stops necessary, when you say Iran must not be allowed to get a bomb, what, if anything, at this point can the U.S. actually do about it?”
Malley: “Our preference is a diplomatic option. I think it's been proven to be the most effective way and the most sustainable way to make sure that Iran doesn't acquire a bomb. And we have a credible diplomatic path, but we also have a credible deterrence path. In other words, the president has said all options are on the table. You could imagine what that means. He has said explicitly that the military option will be on the table. It is far from the preferred option, but he will do what it takes to make sure Iran doesn't acquire a bomb. And we hope that we could resolve this through diplomatic means, and we're prepared to go down that path.”
“They could continue on the current path, which has brought real economic problems for them. We will not be lifting our sanctions as long as we can't enter into another nuclear deal. If they believe that they're better off with that one, that will be their choice.”
In an interview with the BBC aired on January 30: “[President Biden] never said that the possibility of an understanding with Iran was dead. In fact, we have said the exact opposite time and time again.”
“We could play with words about what exactly is dead or not.”
“I’ve been charged by the President to seek a diplomatic outcome. That’s still what I’m doing even as we take other steps…I don’t think anyone can doubt the military capacity of the United States…It’s not our first option…It’s a very dangerous option. It’s not one that… President Biden would engage in cavalierly. He would do it if necessary.”
“Iran is going to have to make a choice…whether it wants to continue to go down this path of greater isolation, greater pressure, more sanctions, no economic opportunity, or whether it chooses another one.”
In remarks on March 21: “This past year has been a difficult one for so many Iranians. As families gather to mark Nowruz, there are far too many chairs left empty by sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers who have been killed or detained by the regime for the simple act of exercising their inalienable rights.
“You are the ones who will write this page in Iran’s history. But you should know that you are not alone. You should know how inspired we are by your bravery, how determined we are to listen to and amplify your voices, how dedicated we are to ensuring that you have access to the internet—even when your rulers seek to deny it, and how committed we are on our own and together with so many across the globe to hold to account those perpetrating human rights abuses.
“It has been a difficult year, yes. But also a year of unspeakable courage, of remarkable resilience, and of hope. Hope that even given Iran’s long and illustrious past, the best days for its people lie in its tomorrows.
“On behalf of the United States, I wish you peace and prosperity in the new year and hope for a better future.”
In remarks posted on Twitter on January 31: “I can’t recall a case of a human rights crisis where the President, Vice-President, Secretary of State, Head of the CIA, everyone has spoken as frequently and loudly about what’s happening in Iran.
“Can’t remember a case where we moved so quickly to adjust our sanctions to allow Iranians to circumvent the ‘wall of silence’ that the Iranian regime has tried to impose by allowing them access to the internet to communicate with each other and with the outside world.
“And I can’t recall a case where we mobilized the international community so quickly … [We got] Iran expelled from the Commission on the Status of Women, an unprecedented step.”
Gen. Mark Milley (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
On the Iranian Threat
In House testimony on March 29: “Iran’s support for and involvement in conflicts in the region and its neighbors threaten to push the Middle East into broader regional instability and chaos. Through its funding of terrorist activities and support to partner and proxy forces inside the borders of its neighbors, along with its ballistic missile programs, Iran seeks to revise the regional order and balance of power in its favor. Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region and into Russia pose critical security challenges for the United States and our partners.”
“We've obviously had issues with Iran for many, many years. In my view, Iran's strategic objective is to drive the United States out of both Iraq and Syria. They want to do that for their own national security interests. They want to establish what is often referred to as a Shia Crescent that goes from Iran through Iraq, through Syria into Lebanese Hezbollah. Their archenemy, obviously, is Israel. And they want to be the dominant power in the region. That's what the assessment is from the intelligence community. And I concur with that. So that's their strategic objective.”
“I wouldn’t call it a true full alliance in the real meaning of that word, but we are seeing [Russia and China] moving closer together, and that’s troublesome.”
“And then … Iran is the third. So those three countries together are going to be problematic for many years to come I think, especially Russia and China because of their capability.”
In Senate testimony on March 28:
Question: What can we do proactively to counter these [Iranian-backed] militias before they injure and kill American servicemembers?
Milley: “In terms of proactive measures, what we're looking at is force protection at all of the various camps and outposts in the Central Command area of operation, specifically in Iraq and Syria, where these attacks occur. They have, we think, adequate force protection in terms of counter-rocket and missile defenses. Four responses is probably an understatement because we end up shooting down a lot of these incoming UAVs, for example. If a rocket... is going to miss the compound by two, three, four, five kilometers, that's a significant amount. So really what we owe you are some better numbers, actually, on attacks that I would categorize as actual attacks on the compound and missing a compound by two or three kilometers, that may or may not--we don't know what that was necessarily. So we owe us some better numbers.
“But to get to your point about proactively, we have to work closely with the Iraqi government for those Shia militia groups that are inside Iraq. And we have to continue to work with our partners in the region for the attacks that are occurring in Syria. So working with our indigenous allies and partners is key. And then also putting these groups on notice. The various Shia militia groups, we know who they are, letting them know that we will respond affirmatively and forcefully if they attack our troops. We've done that. There are some of these groups that are much more aggressive than others. And we have actually in the past, done some things to those groups that are not necessarily on the front page of the paper. So there are activities that are occurring that do act as a proactive measure.
“The last thing I would say with respect to Iran--messaging Iran is critically important. The Iranian government is a complex, large organization, and the supreme leader may or may not be making every single decision. We do know that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard force, and specifically their Quds Force, which is designated a terrorist organization--that group there is what we need to be targeting and targeting them very hardly, or harshly, over time. And that's exactly what we plan on doing.”
On the Nuclear Program
In House testimony on March 29: “Iran is taking actions to improve its capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon, should it make the decision to do so, while continuing to build its missile forces. From the time of a national decision, Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in approximately 10-15 days and it would only take several months to produce an actual nuclear weapon. The United States remains committed, as a matter of policy, that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”
In congressional testimony on March 23: “Iran is taking actions to improve its capabilities, to produce nuclear weapons, and could make the decision to do so while continuing to build its missile forces.”
“From the time of an Iranian decision…Iran could produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks, and would only take several more months to produce an actual nuclear weapon.”
“The United States remains committed as a matter of policy that Iran will not have fielded nuclear weapons.”
“We, the United States military, have developed multiple options for our national leadership to consider if or when Iran ever decides to develop an actual nuclear weapon.”
Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla (CENTCOM Commander)
On the Iranian Threat
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on March 23: “CENTCOM was formed to counter the influence of a revolutionary regime that had seized power in Tehran and to compete strategically with the Soviet Union. The organization’s original charter was to direct and enable military operations and activities with partners to increase regional stability in support of American interests.
“That mission remains essentially unchanged to this day.
“Iran remains the focus. We now battle violent extremist groups who threaten the United States, our interests, and the region. The Soviet Union has been replaced with China and Russia as strategic competitors.
“The region remains vitally important to the Nation and the world. Ours is an area of responsibility that encompasses 21 nations and almost 600 million people and serves as the strategic nexus of the world’s most important corridors of trade.
“Today, CENTCOM’s priorities are to deter Iran, counter violent extremist organizations, and compete strategically with China and Russia. That is what we do.
Four decades after CENTCOM’s formation, Iran remains the primary destabilizing element in the region. We’ve seen rapid advances in Iranian military capability over time. The Iran of 2023 is not the Iran of 1983. In fact, Iran today is exponentially more militarily capable than it was even five years ago.
“Today, Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, with thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles.
“Iran also maintains the region’s largest and most capable UAV force.
“Iran’s vast and deeply resourced proxy forces spread instability throughout the region and threaten our regional partners.”
“As Iran continues to destabilize the region, we continue the fight against violent extremist organizations.”
“So, deter Iran, counter violent extremist organizations, and compete strategically are what we do. people – partners – innovation is how we do them.”
Question: Focusing on China… or the reopening of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia China just recently negotiated. Part of that is that Iran says publicly that they're going to stop sending arms to Yemen, to the Houthis in Yemen, which would be a significantly positive step. So here's the first question. Do you believe that you see that coming out? Do you see some positive aspects of Iran and Saudi Arabia are reestablishing diplomatic ties?
Kurilla: “There is goodness anytime tensions can be removed, lowered. An agreement is not implementation. While they were negotiating this—over the last 90 days, we stopped five major shipments of Iranian arms that were going to the Houthis, and some of those were advanced components like inertial navigation systems for short range ballistic missiles.
“What we should be concerned about in this is that China is the one that mediated this. It was being done by two countries in the Middle East over the last two years. But what it shows is that China—not only do they have their economic information and military instruments of national power… coming into the region, we are now seeing really for the first time their diplomatic instrument of national power.”
Question: You laid out that you have assessed this particular situation, those risks. In your assessment, where do you believe the greatest risk exists…and what do you have currently that you're using to mitigate that risk? And what might you need in order to do everything possible to make sure that we deter those actors that may be wanting to perpetrate a black swan event?
Kurilla: “Our greatest risk is with Iran right now. That is why it is our number one priority to deter them. And then I would tell you, it's the violent extremist organizations that we are seeing, the ISIS Khorasan group in Afghanistan. What we're doing is we're applying our resources to both of those efforts. We look at those also through our partners to be the regional constructs to deter Iran. And again, it's an increase in our capability and intelligence inside of Afghanistan.”
Question: How often are you attacked from Iran with the unmanned aerial vehicles? Is it weekly or monthly? Give us a feel for how often you're being attacked.
Kurilla: “It is periodic. We see periods will they'll do more. There has been a number since 1 January 2021. The number is about 78 times that we have been attacked.”
Question: 78 times have been attacked. Are these UAVs flying out of Iran tricking us, are they being used by militias?
Kurilla: “So what Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies. That's with their UAVs or rockets to be able to attack our forces in Iraq or Syria.”
Question: Do we have the right level of fielding for counter-UAV… should we be doing more?
Kurilla: “We are doing more right now in terms of getting additional capability in the field. We'll be bringing some directed energy systems online. That is, everything is a layered defense. I think when we bring some new capabilities online, you want to be able to test these systems and make sure they have the right probability of kill, based on different systems and the techniques that the enemy is using to be able to attack you. So I think this will be an area we'll continue to invest in. I know that there's other organizations like SOCOM that are doing some to bring additional capability to it, but all of it is part of a layered defense.”
Question: What does [the Iran-Saudi deal] mean as it pertains to military relations with Saudi Arabia?
Kurilla: “We have very strong military relations with Saudi Arabia…What we're talking about is really about opening up diplomatic ties… What this means really in the region is that this was going on for two years prior but that China came in to swoop and try and take the credit for this mediation.”
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16: “Four decades after revolutionary students overran the American embassy, Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, with thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles, some capable of striking the entire Middle East and Levant. The Iranian regime now holds the largest and most capable Unmanned Aerial Vehicle force in the region. The advancement of Iranian military capabilities over the past 40 years is unparalleled in the region; in fact, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of today is unrecognizable from just five years ago. Even more concerning, Iran has advanced its nuclear program such that Tehran can now produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than 14 days. In addition, the regime invests heavily in information operations, including broadcasting, coordinated inauthentic activity, and cyber-attacks.”
“Deterring Iran is arguably more urgent than at any time in CENTCOM’s history due to Iran’s cutting-edge missile and UAV capability as well as its uranium enrichment program. As it was at the time of CENTCOM’s formation, Iran is the most destabilizing actor in the region. Today, Iran is undeterred from its malign activities, which include conventional threats to neighbors, support to violent proxy groups that spread chaos and instability throughout the region, and support to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“The evolution of the Iranian threat – the primary threat against which this command was born –is a story that runs the full timeline of CENTCOM history. Early in the Iran-Iraq war, the regime realized its armed forces could never fully recover from the crippling losses suffered during that ruinous conflict. Instead, to develop an asymmetric advantage against regional militaries, the regime invested in precision missiles with extended reach. It now commands an imposing measure of missile capability it uses to coerce, intimidate, and bully its neighbors.
“Tehran has also manufactured increasingly sophisticated Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The regime now commands an arsenal of drone systems, ranging from small, short-range systems to modern intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems to long-range One-Way Attack platforms. They are building larger drones that can fly further with increasingly deadly payloads. Until the United States helped secure the Yemen truce, Iran was regularly using Yemen as a testing ground for these weapons, threatening both U.S. partners and tens of thousands of Americans in the Gulf.
“Meanwhile, Tehran continues to furnish weapons, support, and direction to proxies across the region who engage in acts of terror and undermine local governments, all advancing Iranian interests. The proxy forces are more emboldened and dangerous through the increased proliferation of these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which allow them to target US and partner interests with increased speed, range, accuracy, and explosive capacity.”
“Iran also puts itself increasingly further outside of international norms; Tehran continues to ignore United Nations Security Council resolutions, violate sanctions and embargos, proliferate weapons to its network of proxies and affiliates, and attack shipping vessels in international waters. The regime continues the brutal beatdown of the rights of its citizenry, crushing dissent, protest, and human rights. Iranian-aligned groups routinely strike at American troops and our partners in Iraq and Syria.”
In an interview with Bahrain’s The Daily Tribune published on February 14: “Tehran is now shipping deadly UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] and advanced weaponry to Russia, supplying and supporting Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.”
“Iran is the primary destabilizing element in the region, and I have been consistent on that point.”
“Iran was the primary concern for CENTCOM at its formation in 1983, and that remains the case today.”
“Iran has sharply evolved its military capability over time, and Iran today is far more capable, technologically advanced, and militarily powerful than just five years ago. To combat this, we are strengthening partnerships.”
“Israel and our other partners throughout the region see shared threats, and new partnerships are forming, which only benefits regional security and stability.”
“Across CENTCOM, we cultivate, strengthen, and lean on partnerships. We are focused on developing deep, abiding partnerships that will allow us to address a range of threats.”
On the Nuclear Program
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on March 23: “Iran continues to enrich and stockpile uranium far above what is needed for commercial use. Iran can enrich uranium far faster than it could even two years ago.
“An Iran with a nuclear weapon would change the Middle East overnight and forever.”
Question: General Kurilla, I'm extremely concerned about the rapid progress Iran has made on its nuclear program. Earlier this month, the IAEA said that Iran has produced uranium particles that were enriched up to 83.7 percent. Last week, you testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Tehran can now produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than 14 days. Iran is on the brink of being a nuclear weapons state which would change the security layout of the Middle East in unpredictable ways. So General, what activities or plans are you engaged in to reinforce U.S. deterrence, and convey to Iran that acquiring nuclear weapons will not be in its best interest?
Kurilla: “U.S. policy is that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. I think anything about plans that we have against any nuclear program would be best in a classified setting.”
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16: “This story grows more foreboding. Today, Iran continues to enrich and stockpile uranium far above what is needed for commercial use. Increasingly more centrifuges are the advanced IRN6 models, capable of enriching uranium far faster and more efficiently than Iran’s first-generation centrifuges. The regime is now stockpiling highly enriched uranium under the guise of commercial use. The International Atomic Energy Agency report released on February 28th on Iran’s enrichment program reveals that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched up to 60% has grown substantially in less than three months and that Iran now has sufficient nuclear material for manufacture of several nuclear explosive devices. The region is increasingly worried about a nuclear-armed Iran.”
On Iran-Russia Ties
Question: Further on Iran, they are posturing to be more than just a regional challenge. Over the course of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Iran has increasingly provided military support to Russia, specifically drones. Russia is planning to provide Iran with advanced capabilities including military fighter jets, helicopters, air defense systems, so they're also planning to jointly build a drone factory inside Russia that would produce thousands of drones per year. This has more than just regional impact for Iran. So how is CENTCOM posturing to respond to this increasing collaboration between Iran and Russia and what do you assess the implications to be for the region?
Kurilla: “It is very concerning with this relationship that Iran and Russia have—we are seeing them move the UAVs to Russia [to] be able to use them in Ukraine. These are the very same UAVs that they used to attack our forces in Iraq and Syria, and they're improving upon them. And we are seeing this Iranian state media that publicly announced that they'll be getting SU-35s, which is a fourth [generation Russian] fighter aircraft. They'll be providing those—we think that will happen at some point this year. And it is this closer collaboration between two adversaries that is concerning, What we are doing is building the regional partnerships in the region to be able to counter that.”
Question: And what about the, I think it's called the S-400 air defense system that Russia is saying it will provide to Iran?
Kurilla: “We have not seen the S-400 be provided to Iran, but Iran also produces a very capable indigenous air defense system.”
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16: “Recently, Iran’s advanced weapons are seen on the battlefield of Ukraine alongside their Russian partners. Iran often aligns information operations with or in support of Russia. An internationally isolated Iran has clearly thrown in its lot with an also isolated Russia.”
Question: Now, I know you've spent a lot of your testimony also on Iran and I have a lot of constituents of Iranian background who say that this time, the protests are different, this time the regime really is not going well. I don't know if you're in a position to have a comment from what you're hearing in the area about what the sentiment is towards the regime and the protests?
Kurilla: “What we can see is that the regime can deal with the domestic situation but also do their malign behavior externally—their foreign policy, if you will, while they still deal with their domestic policy. It is my assessment right now that even though the protests have put stress on the regime, it has not put the regime at risk.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul
On the Iranian Threat
In a press conference on February 28: “We see Iran and Iran-backed threats to the region only increasing. We see them on ground by Iran’s sponsorship, arming, training, funding, and direction of militia groups, proxies, and non-state actors on the ground. We see it in the air threats from Iran’s proliferation of missiles and one-way attack drones to non-state actors across the region. And finally, we see the increasing aggression at sea by its maritime actions. That’s not even to begin on its malicious cyber activities, which have clearly threatened not only partners in the Middle East but outside the Middle East, and all of that is probably reported.
“You will see many different actions that the U.S. – in particular our really impressive leadership and forces from U.S. Central Command, increased maritime interdictions to shine a light on what Iran’s proliferating through maritime routes to non-state actors like the Houthis to threaten the region. You see it in the work we are doing to both take self-defensive military strikes in eastern Syria to protect U.S. forces. So all of these are ways in which we’re pushing back given the constellation of increasing Iranian threats.
“I also want to take a moment to note that even though the United States has consistently within the Department of Defense worked with our allies and partners to push back on Iranian destabilizing activities – and in fact, Secretary Austin made it a priority back in 2021 to focus on the Iran-backed one-way attack drone threat that we really concerned and remain concerned about the threats to our partners in the Middle East. We are now at a point where Iranian threats are no longer specific to the Middle East, but a global challenge.”
On Iran-Russia Ties
In a press conference on February 28: “And that is a result of the increasing military cooperation between Iran and Russia, and the illicit transfer by Iran to Russia of one-way attack drones that are being used in Ukraine to kill Ukrainian civilians.
“So now we are shifting not only to what has been longstanding efforts to create a regional security architecture, push back and counter these activities in the region; we now need to rally a coalition not only in the Middle East, but a global coalition to push back on the malign cooperation between Iran and Russia.
“It is reasonable to expect that the tactics, techniques, and procedures that the Iranians are learning and perfecting in Ukraine will one day come back to threaten our partners in the Middle East, which is why we are increasing cooperation now, intelligence-sharing, understanding these networks, and increasing our collective defensive capabilities so that we are prepared to counter these threats in the region.”
Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich (Commander of Air Forces Central)
On the Iranian Threat
In remarks on February 13: “I would assess that the overall Iranian objective continues to be to expel the United States from the region so they can be the regional hegemon and further threaten our partners in the region without … the threat of any kind of U.S. retaliation.”
“[Plots against U.S. or coalition forces are] not a question of if, but when.”
“It became public that an attack was going to happen [against Middle Eastern energy infrastructure in November 2021], and therefore the Iranians knew they would not be able to deny it. They assessed that … there would be some sort of a response.”
On Iran-Russia Ties
In remarks on February 13: “Who would have ever thought that Russia would be beholden to Iran in some way? It’s an inverse of the historical relationship of who’s the client state and who’s not.”
Vice Adm. Brad Cooper (Commander of Naval Forces Central)
On the Iranian Threat
In remarks in the United Arab Emirates on February 21: “We’re focused on expanding our partnerships.”
“Iranian actions have the attention of everyone.”
“Obviously the nuclear component is all being handled via diplomatic means.”
“Over a two-year period, we have for sure seen an increase in the number of malign activities [weapons transports], much of which we’ve been catching just in the last 60 to 90 days.”
“I won’t be able to get to the intelligence piece of it other than to say it’s an area that we’re clearly focused on with our partners.”
“We’ve had a lot of success [countering weapons transports] and our job is to just remain vigilant and keep at the mission.”
“The Iranian attempted seizures [of U.S. drones in 2022] were flagrant. They were unwarranted. They were certainly unprofessional, but most importantly, they were a gross violation of international law.”
“Since then, we’ve had six exercises of varying scale, bilaterally and multilaterally. We’ve had no issues with Iran attempting to do anything with the drones.”
“The perspective among regional leaders that the number one threat, or the most-serious threat, is from Iran has allowed us to work more closely with Israel.”
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl
On the Nuclear Program
In House testimony on February 28: “Because Iran's nuclear progress since we left the JCPOA has been remarkable. Back in 2018, when the previous administration decided to leave the JCPOA it would have taken Iran about 12 months to produce one bomb's worth of fissile material. Now it would take about 12 days.”
“There is still the view that if you could resolve this issue diplomatically and put constraints back on their nuclear program, it is better than the other options. But right now, the JCPOA is on ice.”
A joint U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council statement on June 8: "The GCC Council and the United States reiterated their commitment to freedom of navigation and maritime security in the region and their determination to counter aggressive and illegal actions at sea or elsewhere that might threaten the shipping lanes, international trade, and oil installations in the GCC states. The Ministers reaffirmed their support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and renewed their call for Iran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Ministers welcomed the decision by Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations and stressed the importance of adherence to international law, including the UN Charter, by states of the region."