Council on Foreign Relations told of U.S. plans for Iran strike
LONDON — Western defense sources and analysts told a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations that Britain and the United States are preparing for the prospect of air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities in late 2006 if diplomatic efforts at the United Nations Security Council are not succesful.
"In just the past few weeks I've been convinced
that at least some in the administration have already made up their
minds that they would like to launch a military strike against Iran,"
Joseph Cirincione, director of the Washington-based Non-Proliferation
Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said.
[On Tuesday, Iran announced the successful enrichment of uranium to the 3.5 percent level required to produce fuel to operate nuclear power reactors, Middle East Newsline reported.]
On Monday, President George Bush said Iran's nuclear program could be halted by means other than force. He dismissed reports of U.S. plans for an air strike against Teheran.
"I know we're here in Washington [where] prevention means force," Bush said. "It doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case it means diplomacy."
"There is already active discussion and even planning of such strikes," Cirincione said. "It is now my working hypothesis that at least some members of the administration, including the vice president of the United States, have made up their mind that the preferred option is to strike Iran and that a military strike will destabilize the regime and contribute to their longtime goal of overthrowing the government of Iran."
Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel and instructor at the National Defense University, held a recent simulation of a U.S. attack on Iran.
Gardiner, envisioning a five-day military operation, identified 24 nuclear-related facilities — some of them 15 meters underground — as part of 400 Iranian sites required for U.S. targeting.
The targets for the U.S. military, Gardiner told a security conference in Berlin in April, would include two Iranian chemical production plants, medium-range ballistic missile launchers and 14 airfields with sheltered aircraft. He said the United States could use its B-2 fleet to destroy these targets.
"The Bush administration is very close to being left with only the military option," Gardiner said.
[On April 9, the Iranian daily Jumhuri Eslami reported that Iran shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle launched from neighboring Iraq. The newspaper said the UAV was relaying reconnaissance of southern Iran.] On April 3, the British Defence Ministry hosted a high-level strategic meeting in London that included senior officials from the Prime Ministry, Foreign Office and military. The Telegraph newspaper reported that the meeting focused on military plans against Iran, something the government quickly denied.
"Clearly at some level, the British don't feel that the military option will come into play until, at the very earliest, the late summer," Hugh Barnes, director of the Iran program of the London-based Foreign Policy Center, said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agreed. On April 9, Straw told the British Broadcasting Corp. that a military strike against Iran was not on the agenda.
"They [the Americans] are very committed indeed to resolving this issue by negotiation and by diplomatic pressure," Straw said. "And what the Iranians have to do is recognize they have overplayed their hand at each stage."
At this point, the Western sources said, Britain and the United States have agreed to seek support from China and Russia on UN sanctions on Iran.
They said the two countries hope to draft a unified Security Council resolution on sanctions before the G-8 summit in July.
Should that fail, the sources said, Britain and the United States would prepare for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. They said the plans would allow London and Washington to prepare for the prospect of a Shi'ite backlash in Iraq.
"It is a kind of dual policy that the military will be looking at," Barnes said. "Not just the context strategically for what an attack on Iran would involve, but also the likely fallout from such an attack if — as is not yet conceivable — it was to take place."
Richard Haas, a former White House national security adviser and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the United States has drafted a military option against Iran. Haas said the option called for a limited military strike that would destroy Iran's nuclear facilities without seeking to overthrow the regime in Teheran.
"It would be a preventive military option, not preemptive because there's no imminent threat of use [of nuclear weapons]," Haas said. "But something more limited, to basically destroy or set back their nuclear development — a classic preventive military strike."
At the Council on Foreign Relations discussion, Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA operative in the Middle East and now with the American Enterprise Institute, said the Bush administration would wait three months to determine whether the Security Council was prepared to sanction Teheran. In July 2006, Gerecht said, the military option would undergo open debate in Washington.
"We have not had that debate," Gerecht said. "We are going to have that debate. I think we should have that debate sooner, not later, so we don't have to get bogged down."
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