Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Staff, February 14, 2023

Top US General's Remark About Iran Nuclear Weapon Raises Eyebrows

Friday, 03/24/2023

A statement by Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Staff, about Iran’s development of nuclear weapons has raised eyebrows of experts and observers.

During a Congressional testimony on Thursday, warning about the dangers Iran poses Gen. Milley said, “The United States remains committed as a matter of policy that Iran will not have a fielded nuclear weapon.”

The term “fielded” has led to questions about what the Biden administration’s policy exactly is regarding Iran becoming a nuclear power. Previously, President Joe Biden and all top officials had repeatedly said that US policy is not to allow the Islamic Republic to acquire a nuclear weapon, threatening that all options are on the table.

Now, with the Pentagon chief saying that the US would not allow a “fielded” nuclear weapon, some ask if the administration would allow Iran to build a bomb but not “field” it, which in essence is a vague concept.

Being a nuclear threshold state is a familiar concept, meaning that a country has the fissile material and the knowhow to build a nuclear bomb but has not decided to do so, but once a bomb is produced, it is not clear what the difference is between a bomb in the basement and one “fielded.”

Former senior US diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross tweeted that “Did General Milley misspeak or is US policy now to respond only if Iran deploys a nuclear weapon or in the General’s words has a “fielded nuclear weapon.” That implies that Iran can develop a bomb but we would respond only if they deployed it. If true, Iran will develop a bomb.”

Milley also said during his testimony that Iran can have enough fissile material for a bomb in two weeks and it would need just a few months to build a bomb. The timeline he mentioned about fissile material was in line with what Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said last month, but the estimate of just a few months needed to build a bomb was more alarming than previous US predictions.

Gabriel Noronha, a former Trump administration official tweeted, “It implies that Iran has started to conduct weaponization activities, something US intelligence officials have not publicly stated before this point - even as recently as a couple weeks ago.”

Milley also said, “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.”

This last comment seems to be different from the earlier one and more in line with declared administration policy. As Ross said in his tweet, did Gen. Milley misspeak?

The administration will be most probably asked about this, but the Islamic Republic will surely take notice of the general's remark about a "fielded" nuclear weapon, even if later it is explained away.

So far, government media in Iran have not mentioned Milley’s statement, but it could simply be that the country is in the midst of Nowruz holidays.

The Biden administration has adopted a tougher tone toward the Iranian regime since September when nuclear negotiations reached a deadlock and antigovernment protests in Iran changed the agenda. In addition, the US and its allies are outraged by Iran’s delivery of killer drones to Russia.
Iran-linked forces conducted two attacks on US forces in Syria on Thursday and Friday, and some observers noted that such attacks in Iraq and Syria have noticeably increased since the Biden administration came to office and began nuclear talks with Iran.

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