Pentagon eyes Iran, but takes tack of diplomacy

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The Pentagon is updating its options for attacking Iran to set back Tehran’s nuclear program, but there is no immediacy to the planning as the Bush administration stays committed to a diplomatic track for now.

Administration officials and Pentagon advisers say they do not think Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, which would lead an attack, has presented formal military options to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

“They don’t want anything like that to leak. It would upset Europe,” a Pentagon adviser said. “The generals in the building won’t talk about Iran. The message is diplomacy.”

A second adviser who has frequent access to the Pentagon said that a senior policy-maker remarked in private, “I guess we’re going to have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran.”

This source said the remark came out of frustrations that the Bush administration would receive little or no public support from any other nation for military air strikes on Iran.

“There is not much they can do. They are tied up in Iraq,” the adviser said. “I don’t think the president wants to stick his neck out again.”

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on Iran except to say, “We are on a diplomatic track.”

Mr. Rumsfeld, at a press conference Tuesday, was asked whether the CIA’s faulty intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction spurred doubts on how much the U.S. knows about Iran’s nuclear program.

“You’re dealing with a closed society there. And so, clearly, one has to be very careful,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Senior administration officials declined to discuss military options for Iran with The Washington Times. But others confirmed that more than routine war planning is under way at the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and Central Command in Tampa, Fla. They said President Bush is far from deciding on military action even if diplomacy fails in the next year or two.

Mr. Bush, who leaves office in January 2009, is committed to stopping radical Islamic rulers of Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, which could find their way to terrorists or be used to attack Israel and American troops in the region.

The target list likely would include about 30 nuclear sites in Iran, along with its air force, air defenses and growing arsenal of ballistic missiles that can reach Israel and Europe. The Air Force likely would use B-2 bombers and 5,000-pound penetrating bombs to strike underground targets repeatedly.

The sources said they know of no inner-agency meetings in which senior officials are advocating bombing Iran.

Defense officials are rebutting a report in the New Yorker magazine that they have seriously discussed using the B61-11 nuclear weapon to penetrate and destroy Iran’s reinforced underground facilities. Analysts say the weapon is not capable of penetrating deeply buried sites, such as those in Iran.

William Schneider, chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, said that is the reason the Bush administration has tried, unsuccessfully, to have Congress fund a study into the feasibility of fielding a new family of penetrating nuclear bombs.

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