US: Iran strike 'off table' for now

Defense official says Washington hopes talks, sanctions will suffice.

April 21, 2010 15:07
3 minute read.

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NEW YORK – The United States has ruled out an attack on Iran’s nuclear program in the short term, a top Defense Department official said on Wednesday.

Instead, the US will focus on negotiations with Teheran and continue its aggressive pursuit of United Nations sanctions against the Islamic regime.

“Military force is an option of last resort,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy told reporters during a briefing in Singapore. “It’s off the table in the near term.”

Flournoy said the US has not seen Iran engage productively. But, “right now the focus is a combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions.”

Israeli officials, who have called for tough sanctions on Iran, did not immediately recalibrate their policy, and emphasized their strategic partnership with the US.

“I think there’s a growing understanding in the US and in the international community that everything has to be done to stop the Iranian nuclear program, the sooner the better,” one Israeli official said.

“The important thing is to keep our eyes on the ball and to continue this very close dialogue and interchange with the administration… to make sure the international community will really bring about sanctions on Iran as soon as possible.”

A Pentagon spokesman clarified on Wednesday that American military action against Iran remains an option even as the United States pursues diplomacy and sanctions to halt the country’s nuclear program.

“We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. “The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military... It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.”

He was responding to Flournoy’s earlier statements in Singapore.

Morrell said the military is “very confident” it could protect the US from a Iranian ballistic missile strike. The US defense system based in California and Alaska is “sufficient to protect us from such a threat, he told reporters.

Last week, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev, urged the Security Council to act on Iran in a timely manner.

“The most alarming danger is that Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons capabilities, while mocking the diplomatic overtures of the international community,” she said. “This council has an obligation to translate this consensus into timely and effective action.”

In recent months, the US has accelerated its pursuit of Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

“The urgency of the threat and the catastrophic consequences of even a single act of nuclear terrorism demand an effort that is at once bold and pragmatic,” US President Obama said last week in Washington, as 47 nations signed a pact to secure the nuclear materials worldwide within four years.

Under a new Nuclear Posture Review, the US pledged that Iran and North Korea would become “more isolated” as part of a new policy that restricts American use of nuclear weapons.

But earlier this week, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran wants direct talks with Security Council members.

Previously, Iran rejected UN-backed proposals that would give Teheran nuclear fuel rods in exchange for its lower-level enriched uranium. Supporters of the plan think it would prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons.

In an editorial on Tuesday, The New York Times called to speed up sanctions.

“Iran is especially vulnerable now, both economically and politically. Its leaders will be watching carefully, especially to see what its longtime trading partners and enablers in Russia and China do,” the Times wrote.

But the editorial board claimed a military attack would be a “disaster,” and quoted Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, telling reporters on Sunday that military options would “delay” Iran’s nuclear program. “That doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away,” he said.

On Wednesday, Iran’s state TV announced that the Revolutionary Guard would conduct large-scale war games in the Strait of Hormuz.

The three-day military maneuvers are meant to “safeguard security” in the region, the Guard’s deputy chief Hossein Salami was quoted as saying.

The announcement added fuel to tension with the West. In the past, Iran has threatened to close the strait if attacked.

Salami said the war games sought to demonstrate Iran’s role in the waterway, through which about 40 percent of the world’s oil and energy supply passes.

AP contributed to this report.

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