By Jamie Crawford
The United States does not believe Iran has a nuclear weapon, but its actions leave a great deal to question, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday, drawing an analogy to the mistaken belief that Iraq had chemical weapons before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"I do think living as long as I have lived, people say and do things that are at variance with what one might expect," Clinton told Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, during testimony before a Senate appropriations subcommittee looking into the State Department's current budget request.
"It is still quite bewildering to me why Saddam Hussein wanted everyone to believe he had chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons when apparently he did not," Clinton said.
She said the administration is determined to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.
"I think there is a very clear-eyed view of Iran and Iranian objectives, and that is why the president's policy is so clear and is adamant that the United States intends to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Clinton said during her hearing.
Despite the view of the U.S. intelligence community that Iran has yet to make a decision to move forward on producing a weapon, Graham pressed Clinton as to whether Iran had made a decision to create the capability to build an atomic bomb.
"That is a point of debate in the intelligence community," Clinton replied.
"It is the position of the administration to prevent [Iran] from obtaining nuclear weapons," Clinton went on to say.
Graham asked whether that position includes preventing Iran from obtaining all the component parts for a weapon.
"I'm going to stick with what the policy of the administration is," Clinton said, refusing to go any further. (Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, testifying at a different Senate hearing on Tuesday, said that the U.S. intelligence belief is that while Iran is developing a nuclear capability, they have not moved to developed a nuclear weapon).
Clinton also told the Senate subcommittee that sanctions aimed at Iran's oil exports and its central bank are creating adverse conditions for the Iranian economy, thanks to the efforts of European and Asian governments who are assisting the United States.
"We are relentlessly pressing" those governments to do all they can to increase the pressure on Iran, she said.
At the same time Clinton was testifying, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey was asked to clarify a comment he made about Iran's nuclear ambitions during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee.
In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria earlier this month, Dempsey said the United States should view Iran as a "rational actor" despite Iran's belligerent actions and rhetoric surrounding their nuclear program and ambitions. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, told Dempsey she thought such a remark sends Iran the "wrong signal."
The comment had drawn criticism from the Israeli government and Republicans as a weakening of Israel's argument that Iran was a pressing threat against their security.
"I believe that Iran is a regime that is dangerously misguided," Dempsey said in describing the way Iran threatens its neighbors and treats its citizens.
"None of that is acceptable to us, or to our way of thinking and our way of being rational but it does fit their pattern of thinking and a 30-year history of conduct, so my view of this is we can't afford to underestimate our potential adversaries by writing them off as irrational," he said.
"I personally don't mistake Iran's rhetoric for a lack of reason," he added. Dempsey said while it may not be rational thinking from a Western perspective, "as we seek to influence their behavior we have to understand their way of thinking."
"We have to decide what global pressure, including use of force if and when necessary, can turn that regime away from its nuclear ambitions," Dempsey said.
Asked by Ayotte whether military force should be excluded from the range of options directed at Iran's nuclear program, Dempsey said "absolutely not."
Dempsey also denied that he told Israel not to attack, despite what he said in that same CNN interview: "We think that it's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran. I mean, that's been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis, well-known, well-documented."
"I didn't counsel Israel not to attack," Dempsey said. "We had a conversation with them about time, the issue of time." He did not elaborate further.
Dempsey said there is a "real risk" that Iran could let others use a nuclear weapon on their behalf. He added another concern is the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons that could result from others feeling threatened if Iran obtained such a weapon.