- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006


The White House yesterday sought to dampen the idea of an American military strike on Iran, saying the U.S. is conducting “normal defense and intelligence planning” as President Bush seeks a diplomatic solution to Tehran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Administration officials — from President Bush on down — have left open the possibility of a military response if Iran does not end its nuclear ambitions. Several reports published yesterday said the administration was studying options for military strikes; one account raised the possibility of using nuclear bombs against Iran’s underground nuclear sites.

Britain’s foreign secretary called the idea of a nuclear strike “completely nuts.”

Dan Bartlett, counselor to Mr. Bush, cautioned against reading too much into administration planning.

“The president’s priority is to find a diplomatic solution to a problem the entire world recognizes,” he said yesterday. “And those who are drawing broad, definitive conclusions based on normal defense and intelligence planning are ill-informed and are not knowledgeable of the administration’s thinking on Iran.”

Specialists say a military strike on Iran would be risky and complicated. U.S. forces already are preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan, and an attack against Iran could inflame U.S. problems in the Muslim world.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., said Britain would not launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran, and he was as “certain as he could be” that neither would the U.S.

He said he has a high suspicion that Iran is developing a civilian nuclear capability that in turn could be used for nuclear weapons, but there is “no smoking gun” to prove it and justify military action.

“I understand people’s frustration with the diplomatic process,” Mr. Straw said. “It takes a long time and is quite a subtle process. The reason why we’re opposed to military action is because it’s an infinitely worse option, and there’s no justification for it.”

The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran suspend its uranium-enrichment program. But Iran so far has refused to halt its nuclear activity, saying the small-scale enrichment project was strictly for research and not for development of nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed in an April 1 interview with British television channel ITV that the United States is committed to diplomacy to solve the issue. “However,” she added, “the president of the United States doesn’t take his options off the table.”

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros said yesterday that the president and State Department are working with other nations “to address diplomatically the troublesome activities of the Iranian government.”

“And the U.S. military never comments on contingency planning,” he said.

For its part, Iran also brushed aside the reports as a U.S. ploy.

“This is a psychological war launched by Americans because they feel angry and desperate regarding Iran’s nuclear dossier,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran. “Iran is not afraid of threatening language.”

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