Saturday, June 7, 2008

U.S. cool on Iran strike

While Israel PM Olmert and Defence Minister Mofaz were talking up the probability of a US strike on Iran, US officials quickly poured lukewarm water on the idea. Who gains when Israeli officials turn the Iran issue into an Israel issue, and who loses?
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday that the United States was committed to solving the Iranian nuclear threat through diplomatic multilateral means.
Perino was responding to comments made earlier Friday by Transportation Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who said that an Israeli attack on Iran appeared "unavoidable" given the apparent failure of sanctions to deny Tehran technology with bomb-making potential.
"I understand that Israel is very concerned about their future and their safety when they have a neighbor in their region - Iran - that says they want to wipe them off the map," Perino told reporters. "We are trying to solve this diplomatically," she explained.
Asked whether the United States was keeping military options open as a last resort with Iran, she said U.S. President George W. Bush had always said he "would never take any options off the table" but that Washington was pursuing multilateral diplomacy.
"The international community deserves to have the verification that that is true," she said of Iran's assertions that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
Earlier, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, asked specifically whether the United States would support an Israeli strike on Iran, said, "I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals. I think we've been pretty clear in recent weeks and months about our approach on Iran."
The Bush administration has repeatedly said it wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy but has made clear that military options remain on the table as a last resort.
Iran has defied Western pressure to abandon its uranium enrichment projects, which it says are for peaceful electricity generation.
Tehran has also threatened to retaliate against Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, and U.S. targets in the Gulf if there is any attack on Iran.
Earlier Friday, the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted Mofaz as saying "if Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective."
"Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable," the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff who later served as defense minister told the newspaper.
It was the most explicit threat yet against Iran from a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, which, like the Bush administration, has preferred to hint at force as a last resort should United Nations Security Council sanctions fail to achieve the desired abandonment of nuclear development by Tehran.
Mofaz also said in the interview that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, "would disappear before Israel does."
Mofaz's remarks came as he and several other senior members of Olmert's Kadima Party prepare for a possible run for top office should a corruption scandal force the Israeli prime minister to step down.
Iranian-born Mofaz has been a main party rival of the Israeli prime minister, particularly following the 2006 elections when Olmert was forced to hand the defence portfolio to Labor, his main coalition partner, at Mofaz's expense.
Mofaz, who is also designated as a deputy prime minister, has remained privy to Israel's defense planning. He is a member of Olmert's security cabinet and leads regular strategic coordination talks with the U.S. State Department.
Israel sent warplanes to destroy Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981.
A similar Israeli sortie over Syria last September razed what the U.S. administration said was a nascent nuclear reactor built with North Korean help. Syria denied having any such facility.
Independent analysts have questioned, however, whether Israel's armed forces can take on Iran alone, as its nuclear sites are numerous, distant and well-fortified

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