US: Iran strike 'off table' for now

Defense official says Washington hopes talks, sanctions will suffice.

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NEW YORK – The United States has ruled out an attack on Iran’s nuclearprogram in the short term, a top Defense Department official said onWednesday.
Instead, the US will focus on negotiations withTeheran and continue its aggressive pursuit of United Nations sanctionsagainst the Islamic regime.
“Military force is an option of lastresort,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy toldreporters during a briefing in Singapore. “It’s off the table in thenear term.”
Flournoy said the US has not seen Iran engageproductively. But, “right now the focus is a combination of engagementand pressure in the form of sanctions.”
Israeli officials, whohave called for tough sanctions on Iran, did not immediatelyrecalibrate their policy, and emphasized their strategic partnershipwith the US.
“I think there’s a growing understanding in the USand in the international community that everything has to be done tostop the Iranian nuclear program, the sooner the better,” one Israeliofficial said.
“The important thing is to keep our eyes on theball and to continue this very close dialogue and interchange with theadministration… to make sure the international community will reallybring about sanctions on Iran as soon as possible.”
A Pentagonspokesman clarified on Wednesday that American military action againstIran remains an option even as the United States pursues diplomacy andsanctions to halt the country’s nuclear program.
“We are nottaking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure andengagement tracks,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. “Thepresident always has at his disposal a full array of options, includinguse of the military... It is clearly not our preferred course of actionbut it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.”
He was responding to Flournoy’s earlier statements in Singapore.
Morrellsaid the military is “very confident” it could protect the US from aIranian ballistic missile strike. The US defense system based inCalifornia 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.
“Themost alarming danger is that Iran continues to pursue nuclear weaponscapabilities, while mocking the diplomatic overtures of theinternational community,” she said. “This council has an obligation totranslate 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.
“Theurgency of the threat and the catastrophic consequences of even asingle act of nuclear terrorism demand an effort that is at once boldand pragmatic,” US President Obama said last week in Washington, as 47nations signed a pact to secure the nuclear materials worldwide withinfour years.
Under a new Nuclear Posture Review, the US pledgedthat Iran and North Korea would become “more isolated” as part of a newpolicy 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 fuelrods in exchange for its lower-level enriched uranium. Supporters ofthe plan think it would prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons.
In an editorial on Tuesday, The New York Times called to speed up sanctions.
“Iranis especially vulnerable now, both economically and politically. Itsleaders will be watching carefully, especially to see what its longtimetrading partners and enablers in Russia and China do,” the Times wrote.
Butthe 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’snuclear program. “That doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away,”he said.
On Wednesday, Iran’s state TV announced that the Revolutionary Guardwould conduct large-scale war games in the Strait of Hormuz.
The three-day military maneuvers are meant to “safeguard security” inthe region, the Guard’s deputy chief Hossein Salami was quoted assaying.
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 thewaterway, through which about 40 percent of the world’s oil and energysupply passes.
AP contributed to this report.