Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says that economic sanctions and diplomacy — not military action — for now appears the best way to force Iran to halt its nuclear program.
“The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time,” Mr. Gates said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The only way you end up not having a nuclear-capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons, as opposed to strengthened.
“While you don’t take options off the table, I think there’s still room left for diplomacy.”
Mr. Gates said estimates show that Iran, if left unchecked, could produce nuclear weapons in one to three years.
Iran admitted last week to the existence of a previously secret underground uranium-enriching facility. The plant would be about the right size to enrich enough uranium to produce one or two nuclear bombs a year, Western intelligence sources say.
Iranian officials say the plant, as well as other facilities throughout the country, are producing nuclear fuel for power plants, not for weapons.
Mr. Gates said that growing public dissent within Iran against the country’s leaders means that Tehran — anxious to avoid more domestic turmoil that additional sanctions might bring — may be ready to negotiate with the United States and the international community.
“Because of the (recently contested Iranian national) election, we see fissures in Iran that we have not seen before, not in the 30 years since the revolution,” Mr. Gates said on ABC’s “This Week.”
If diplomacy fails, “then I think you begin to move in the direction of severe sanctions,” he said on “This Week.” “Their economic problems are difficult enough that I think that severe sanctions would have the potential of bringing them to change their policies.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded that his nation was keeping nothing from international inspectors and needn’t “inform Mr. Obama’s administration of every facility that we have.” He added that the United States owes him an apology.
When Mr. Gates was asked on “This Week” whether the United States would apology to Mr. Ahmadinejad, he responded flatly, “Not a chance.”