Use of force debate persist on Iran
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
02/11/06 -- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a private meeting with
European diplomats this week, a former senior U.S. official
raised the idea of launching a dozen B2 bombers in an air raid
aimed at crippling key Iranian nuclear facilities.
The suggestion was at odds with current U.S. and European
strategy, which has emphasised patient diplomacy to resolve a
major security challenge for Western powers -- keeping Tehran
from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
But it underscored how questions about possible use of force
persist even Iran has been reported to the U.N. Security Council
this month, triggering a new diplomatic phase that could lead to
sanctions and later, anything more.
The military possibility "comes up whenever we've been around
(Washington)," talking with administration officials and
congressmen, a European diplomat told Reuters, but "we don't see
the military option as being anywhere near in view."
Western powers accuse Iran of developing an atomic weapon, while
Tehran insists it aims to produce only civilian energy.
U.S. President George W. Bush and top aides have said repeatedly
that military action against Iran's growing nuclear
infrastructure remains possible. Bush reaffirmed last weekend
that Iran's nuclear ambitions "will not be tolerated."
But unlike the run-up to the Iraq war, when Bush touted a
post-Sept 11 doctrine of pre-emptive action against a gathering
threat, the administration has not played up the force option.
Especially in light of continuing turmoil in Iraq, talk of
military action against Iran scares many foreign leaders,
diplomats say. That made it harder for Western allies to secure
last weekend's vote of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency shifting
Tehran's case to the more powerful Security Council.
DELAY, NOT DESTROY
"Now that Security Council referral is in prospect, people are
saying we must be focussing on the military option," said the
European diplomat, who spoke anonymously because of the
sensitivity of the subject.
"But both on diplomacy and also in terms of how Iran's nuclear
program is developing, we have not taken a quantum leap in the
last two weeks ... I don't think the bombers are warming up on
the runway," he said.
U.S. warplanes could destroy some Iranian nuclear plants but
many facilities are unknown or underground, so the best outcome
for the West would be a delay in Iran's nuclear capability, not
its destruction, officials and experts say.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, aiming to calm anxieties, told a
parliamentary committee on Wednesday military action is not
inevitable even if Iran develops a bomb.
But others say that force, while fraught with potential dangers
like further inflaming hostility in the Muslim world, may
ultimately be deemed necessary, at least by Washington.
"There is only one thing worse than the United States exercising
a military option and that is a nuclear-armed Iran," Republican
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a possible 2008 U.S. presidential
candidate, told CBS Television.
Barring some dramatic near-term advance in Iran's program,
Washington and its allies likely will not have to consider this
option for a year or more, officials and experts say.
Some experts have predicted that Israel, feeling threatened by
Iran, could take early pre-emptive action. Bush may have eased
such concern when he told Reuters last week the United States
would "rise to Israel's defence" if needed.
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