Iran said Saturday the United States was not in a position to take military action against it, as a magazine reported that a Pentagon panel has been created to plan a bombing attack that could be implemented within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from President Bush.
“We do not see America in a position to impose another crisis on its taxpayers inside America by starting another war in the region,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters Saturday.
Mottaki was responding to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who renewed Washington’s warning to Iran earlier Saturday that “all options” were on the table if Tehran continues to defy U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment.
At a joint news conference with Prime Minister John Howard during a visit to Australia, Cheney said the United States was “deeply concerned” about Iran’s activities, including the “aggressive” sponsoring of terrorist group Hezbollah and inflammatory statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Cheney said top U.S. officials would meet soon with European allies to decide the next step toward planned tough sanctions against Iran if it continues enriching uranium.
“But I’ve also made the point, and the president has made the point, that all options are on the table,” he said, leaving open the possibility of military action.
The United States and several of its Western allies fear that Iran is using its nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon—charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity.
Attack plan in the works?
Despite the Bush administration’s insistence it has no plans to go to war with Iran, a Pentagon panel has been created to plan a fast strike, The New Yorker magazine reported in its latest issue.
The special planning group was established within the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in recent months, according to an unidentified former U.S. intelligence official cited in the article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in the March 4 issue.
The panel initially focused on destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities and on regime change but has more recently been directed to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq, according to an Air Force adviser and a Pentagon consultant, who were not identified.
The consultant and a former senior intelligence official both said that U.S. military and special-operations teams had crossed the border from Iraq into Iran in pursuit of Iranian operatives, according to the article.
Pentagon denies report
In response to the report, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous.
“The United States has been very clear with respect to its concerns regarding specific Iranian government activities. The president has repeatedly stated publicly that this country is going to work with allies in the region to address those concerns through diplomatic efforts,” Whitman said.
Pentagon officials say they maintain contingency plans for literally dozens of potential conflicts around the world and that all plans are subject to regular and ongoing review.
The article, citing unnamed current and former U.S. officials, also said the Bush administration received intelligence from Israel that Iran had developed an intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads that could reach Europe. It added the validity of that intelligence was still being debated.
‘Make a brave decision and resume talks’
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Thursday that Iran had ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze its uranium enrichment program and had expanded the program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges.
Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building an atomic bomb.
The IAEA report came after Wednesday’s deadline of a 60-day grace period for Iran to halt uranium enrichment. Iran has repeatedly refused to halt enrichment as a precondition to negotiations about its program.
Mottaki said negotiations, not threats, were the only way left to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities and urged the U.S. and its allies to return to dialogue when they are scheduled to meet in London next week.
“The only way to reach a solution for disputes is negotiations and talks. Therefore, we want the London meeting to make a brave decision and resume talks with Iran,” Mottaki told reporters during a press conference with Bahrain’s visiting foreign minister.
Iran says it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel even at the risk of sanctions.