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(photo credit: AP)
American military force against Iran remains an option, though it would be a "last resort," US Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
Mullen emphasized, however, the importance he placed on engagement with the Islamic Republic, particularly when it came to Afghanistan, at the same time that he called for stricter UN resolutions to block Iran's weapons smuggling abilities.
In a rare press conference with the foreign media Tuesday, he alluded to a recent US interception of a ship sailing under a Cypriot flag with weapons that America believed had come from Iran and were heading toward Syria, "where we think they will get in the next day or so."
That was because, while American forces could board the ship, they could not seize the weapons under current international law, Mullen said.
The situation, he said, spoke to "the need to have stronger resolutions, particularly in a case like this, where Iran has clearly violated a United Nations Security Council resolution," a reference to previous restrictions on Iranian weapons transfers.
He described Iran as "unhelpful in many, many ways, in many, many areas, and so I wouldn't be overly optimistic at this point" when it comes to engagement. However, he still said that course of action remained an important avenue to pursue.
"There are mutual interests, and I think that line offers some possibility," he said, particularly in the realm of Afghanistan, which shares a border with Iran and where America's efforts to root out al-Qaida and deal a fatal blow to the Taliban have seen serious reversals in recent months, threatening regional stability.
He described the situation there as bad and in urgent need of reversal; he assessed that the challenges of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan were the top priority for the United States, even before the threat of a nuclear Iran.
But he added, "The issue of Iran developing nuclear weapons is still of great concern to me. I consider that possibility to potentially be very destabilizing in a region that doesn't have much stability right now."
When asked by the Post about the potential for military action and whether the US had changed its stance with the new leadership coming into office, Mullen replied, "I don't think the new administration has taken any options off the table, including military force."
He added, "If you have options, that's a very important part of it - the ability to back it up. I believe it's got to be last resort, and in that regard, I've seen nothing that would indicate that that's changed at all."