WASHINGTON – A resolution to the nuclear dispute with Tehran, should current diplomatic efforts fail, “is likely to involve military action,” US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Friday.
“I’m not predicting that we would take military action right away,” Harf said. “It’s more of a broad statement that, look, if we can’t get this done diplomatically in six months or a year or at any time, we will – we are committed to resolving it. And that involves less durable and, quite frankly, riskier actions.”
In his annual State of the Union address last week, US President Barack Obama said that negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – were the world’s best chance to resolve the standoff “peacefully” and to avoid “the risks of war.”
But rather than directly stating that diplomatic failure could lead to war, Obama said that should talks fail, he would be “the first” to seek additional sanctions against the Islamic Republic from the US Congress.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post which the administration considered more likely if diplomacy does not achieve a comprehensive solution in a time frame agreed upon by world powers – war or additional sanctions – Harf responded: “I’m not saying in six months we’re going to go to war if we don’t get a deal done. Broadly speaking, the alternative to resolving this diplomatically is resolving it through other means.
“There are only a few scenarios that come out of this: Either we resolve it diplomatically or we resolve it a different way,” Harf continued.
“It’s just common sense that that different way could involve – is likely to involve military action.”
Negotiations have produced an agreement for a six-month partial freeze in Iran’s nuclear program, which includes more than 20,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium in nuclear plants as well as enough stockpiled fissile material for five to six nuclear warheads.
Iran agreed to freeze most of its enrichment work and to begin diluting its stockpile of near-20-percent enriched uranium – a key threshold in the enrichment process – in exchange for sanctions relief from world powers amounting to roughly $7 billion.
The interim agreement, reached in Geneva on November 24 and formally known as the Joint Plan of Action, is intended to cap international sanctions pressure on Iran and its nuclear work for six months (the clock started ticking on January 20) while the parties negotiate a permanent end to the decade-old impasse. The parties may extend that deadline an additional six months if all nations agree the negotiations are progressing.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called the interim agreement “a very bad deal” that has made the world “a much more dangerous place.”
In recent weeks, the White House has repeatedly warned that war might be a consequence of a collapse in the talks. But those inferences came in the context of a warning to the US Senate, where a bipartisan group of legislators have been mulling a bill that would trigger new sanctions tools against Iran if talks fail, or if the Joint Plan of Action is not properly upheld.
Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which was introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat.
“I don’t think Americans want a march to war,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in his daily briefing on January 14. “We share the desire to make sure that Iran is held to account. But we need to do so in a way that allows maximum flexibility to achieve a resolution here peacefully.”