Fireside Chat with Director William Burns: Aspen Security Forum 2023

July 20, 2023

Weapon Program: 

  • Military


William Burns

Author's Title: 

Director, Central Intelligence Agency

Mary Louise Kelly: Why is Iran arming Russia in Ukraine?

William Burns: Yeah. Because I think the defense to partnership between Russian and Iran right now is a useful two-way street. 

Mary Louise Kelly: What’s Iran getting?

William Burns: Well, I think we’ve seen signs of the Russian technicians working on the Space Launch vehicle program in Iran and other aspects of their missile programs. We’ve 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. I’ve seen this on my own visits to Kyiv when it was attacked with Iranian UAVs. Other armed Iranian drones had been used indiscriminately against Ukrainian civilians, but you know 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’s what’s most troubling about that defense partnership.

Mary Louise Kelly: Speaking of cracks, speaking of fissures, your counterpart at MI6, Richard Moore, just gave an interview this week in which he suggested that the drones are causing internal turmoil in Iran. His quote was Iran’s decision to supply Russia with suicide drones has provoked internal quarrels at the highest level of the regime in Tehran. Are you seeing that?

William Burns: Yeah. I mean I’m not going to add to what Richard said. In terms of our commentary on intelligence, we collect about what’s going on inside the Iranian leadership. We have however seen signs and some of these have been public where the Iranian leadership has hesitated about supplying ballistic missiles to the Russians which you know is also on their wish list as well partly because they’re concerned not just about our reaction but about European reaction as well.