Prepared Statement by John Lauder Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing: Iranian Weapons Programs: The Russian Connection

October 5, 2000

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile
  • Chemical
  • Biological

Thank you Mr. Chairman for inviting me to testify on this important topic. Iran has ambitious development programs for missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It is seeking technologies related to missiles, as well as technology related to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, from a number of foreign sources. The development of these weapons in Iran, and the extent to which foreign assistance is advancing Iranian weapons programs, are among our toughest intelligence challenges and among our highest priorities.

Mr. Chairman, in my testimony today I will provide a summary of Russian assistance to Iran's weapons of mass destruction programs and its ballistic missile delivery systems. The Iranians regard these programs-and assistance to them-as among their highest state secrets 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 in open session. But I hope this summary will be of use to the Committee, and we will continue to keep the Committee informed of additional details in classified briefings.


Mr. Chairman, I would like to begin with a few comments on Russian aid to Iran's nuclear power 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.

As part of this effort, Iran is seeking nuclear-related equipment, material, and technical expertise from a variety of foreign sources, most notably in Russia. Tehran claims that it seeks foreign assistance to master nuclear technology for civilian research and nuclear energy programs. However, the expertise and technology gained-along with the contacts established-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, ostensibly for civilian nuclear uses, have direct application to the production of weapons-grade fissile material.

The United States has levied trade restrictions against two Russian entities-NIKIET and Mendeleyev University-for providing nuclear assistance to Iran.


I would like to touch briefly on assistance by Russian entities to Iran that could contribute to Tehran'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 thousand 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 diversify its CW arsenal by producing more sophisticated and lethal agents and munitions.

Numerous Russian entities have been providing Iran with dual-use industrial chemicals, equipment, and chemical production technology that could be diverted to Tehran's offensive CW program.

  • In 1999, for example, Russian entities provided production technology, training, and expertise that Iran could use to create a more advanced and self-sufficient CW infrastructure.


I would like to now turn to assistance by Russian entities to Iran's bio-technical programs. Iran is pursuing both civilian biotech activities and a biological warfare (BW) program. Assistance by Russian entities to the former could further Iran's pursuit of biotechnology for military applications.

Iran's BW program 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.

Iran is seeking expertise and technology from Russia that could advance Tehran's biological warfare effort. Russia has several government-to-government agreements with Iran in a variety of scientific and technical fields.

  • Because of the dual-use nature of much of this technology, Tehran can exploit these agreements to procure equipment and expertise that could be diverted to its BW effort.

  • Iran's BW program could make rapid and significant advances if it has unfettered access to BW expertise resident in Russia.


I will now discuss Russian aid to Iran's ballistic missile program. Iran's ballistic missile program is one of the largest in the Middle East. Tehran already has deployed hundreds of short-range (150-500 km) ballistic missiles, covering most of Iraq and many strategic targets in the Persian Gulf. It is developing and may soon deploy the 1,300 km-range Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, which would allow Iran to reach Israel and most of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Tehran probably has a small number of Shahab-3s available for use in a conflict; it has announced that production and deployment has begun, and it publicly displayed three Shahab-3s along with a mobile launcher and other ground support equipment.

Iran's public statements indicate that it plans to develop longer range delivery systems. Although Tehran stated that the Shahab-3 is Iran's last military missile, we are concerned that Iran will use future systems in a military role.

  • Iran's Defense Minister announced the development of the Shahab-4, originally calling it a more capable ballistic missile than the Shahab-3, but later categorizing it as a space launch vehicle with no military applications.

  • Tehran has also mentioned plans for a Shahab-5, strongly suggesting that it intends to develop even longer range ballistic missiles in the near future.

  • Iran has displayed a mock-up satellite and space launch vehicle (SLV), suggesting it plans to develop an SLV to deliver Iranian satellites to orbit. However, Iran could convert an SLV into a ballistic missile by developing a reentry vehicle.

In this context, cooperation between Tehran and Russian aerospace entities has been a matter of proliferation concern since the mid-1990s. Iran is acquiring Russian technology which could significantly accelerate the pace of its ballistic missile development program.

  • Assistance by Russian entities has helped Iran save years in its development of the Shahab-3, which was flight-tested in 1998 and twice again this year.

  • Russian assistance also is playing a crucial role in Iran's ability to develop more sophisticated and longer-range missiles.

Russian entities have helped the Iranian missile effort in areas such as training, testing, and components. These entities vary in size and cover a wide range of specialties. The scope of assistance is illustrated by the variety of organizations that have been subjects of US trade restrictions.

  • Such restrictions have been levied against Russia's government-owned space-technology marketing agency Glavkosmos, the aerospace materials research institute NIIGrafit, the guidance technology developer Polyus, and several smaller and less prominent entities.

  • Further, trade actions have been imposed against two major educational entities, the Moscow Aviation Institute and the Baltic State Technical University.

Russian Oversight

Finally, I would like to turn to the issue of Russian efforts to curb the transfers of WMD and missile technology to Iran. Beginning in January 1998, the Russian Government took a number of steps to increase its oversight of entities involved in dealings with Iran and other states of proliferation concern. In 1999, it passed a new export control law intended to strengthen restrictions on the export of weapons of mass destruction, missile systems, and related technologies.

  • However, the government's weak enforcement of export control legislation has facilitated some Russian companies' efforts to circumvent export controls in the interest of financial gains.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared statement. 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 Committee Members with a more detailed assessment of Russian assistance to Iran's WMD and ballistic missile programs in a closed setting.

Our intelligence reporting and analysis also provides the underpinnings for policy efforts to stop the flow of weapons-related technology to Iran. Assistant Secretary Einhorn will address these efforts in his testimony.