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(photo credit: AP [file])
The nuclear Iranian crisis forces the world "to prepare for the worst" which "is war," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Sunday evening, while emphasizing that negotiations should still be the preferred course of action.
Kouchner, quoted by French daily Le Figaro, added that "Iran does whatever it pleases in Iraq ... one cannot find in the entire world a crisis greater than this one."
Kouchner's statements came just hours after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated the Bush administration's commitment, at least for the time being, to using diplomatic and economic means to counter the potential nuclear threat from Iran.
Speculation has persisted about preparations for a military strike against Iran for its alleged support for terrorism and its nuclear program.
Gates, in a broadcast interview, said he would not discuss "hypotheticals" about what President George W. Bush "may or may not do."
"I think that the administration believes at this point that continuing to try and deal with the Iranian threat, the Iranian challenge, through diplomatic and economic means is by far the preferable approach. That's the one we are using," the Pentagon chief said.
"We always say all options are on the table, but clearly, the diplomatic and economic approach is the one that we are pursuing," he added.
The diplomatic approach takes center stage at a conference in Washington on Friday. The US hosts the UN Security Council's four other permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia - plus Germany to press for new penalties against oil-rich Iran.
But earlier Sunday, the Daily Telegraph reported that Bush and his associates were seriously considering declaring war on Iran and have even listed specific facilities that would be targeted in such an event, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has slowly given up the idea of finding a diplomatic solution to the country's persistence in enriching uranium.
According to senior US defense and intelligence officials that spoke with the Telegraph, the Pentagon has gathered a list of up to 2,000 targets including a major base run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force in the south.
Pentagon and CIA officers said that such a war would come to pass as a result of a "carefully calibrated program of escalation" that would lead to a "military showdown with Iran," the officials told the newspaper.
This scenario could arise once it was apparent that diplomatic efforts with the country were hopeless. When Iran would be internationally denounced for its interference in Iraq, the US could conduct cross border raids on Iranian training camps and bomb factories.
The report said that the raids would provoke a "major Iranian response" that could result in a halt to Gulf oil supplies; this in turn, said experts, would provide legitimacy to strike Iran's nuclear facilities and armed forces.
An intelligence officer noted that the US military had "two major contingency plans" for air strikes on Iran.
"One is to bomb only the nuclear facilities. The second option is for a much bigger strike that would - over two or three days - hit all of the significant military sites as well. This plan involves more than 2,000 targets."
The Pentagon has isolated its main target as the Fajr Garrison in Ahwaz - where it is believed that Iran manufactures self-propelled missiles used against coalition forces in Iraq.
A source told the Telegraph that "a strike will probably follow a gradual escalation. Over the next few weeks and months the US will build tensions and evidence around Iranian activities in Iraq."
Meanwhile, the Telegraph claimed that Rice was prepared to come to an agreement with Vice-President Dick Cheney and consent to military action against Iran.
Rice has been pressured by "senior counter-proliferation officials" to admit that military action may be necessary, a State Department official told the newspaper. She is now working with Cheney to "find a way to reconcile their positions and present a united front to the President."