Top US Officer Wary of War with Iran

A00921757.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq would make it difficult to mount any attack on Iran, the Pentagon’s top officer said in remarks broadcast on Monday, adding that he would prefer to avoid a new regional war.

“I actually am very hopeful that we don’t get into a position where we have to get into a conflict,” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Israel’s Channel Ten television when asked if he might recommend that US forces strike Iranian nuclear facilities preemptively.

“It would be a very significant challenge for the United States right now to get into a third conflict in that part of the world,” Mullen added, referring to the Bush administration’s long-running military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iran also said last week that a “disastrous situation” facing the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with Washington’s domestic issues made any US attack on the Islamic Republic unlikely.

“We think it would be unlikely the Americans would take the decision to get themselves into a new fiasco, the consequences of which they themselves know would be painful for the region and the world,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini said during a weekly press conference last Sunday.

“We hope those who think better in America view the realities more closely and manage to correct such approaches,” he added.

Relations between Washington and Tehran, which have not had diplomatic ties for nearly three decades, are tense over the fate of Israel, Iran’s nuclear program and over who is to blame for violence in Iraq.

Israel which sees Iran as its potential No. one enemy has boasted that it can destroy Iran’s nuclear sites in a just a blitzkrieg. But speculation that Israel could attack Iranian nuclear sites alone has been offset by assessments that its armed forces are too limited for the task. Iran has warned that it would retaliate any such strike by a crushing response.

Hostile rhetoric between Tehran and the US and Pentagon’s allegations about close encounters by the two sides’ navies in the Persian Gulf have fuelled some speculation that it is the United States which may be planning some sort of military action against Tehran.

However, a US intelligence report in December that said Iran is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program made any US attack very unlikely, analysts say.

Washington is leading efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear progress through UN Security Council sanctions, but has also hinted that war could be an option to make Tehran give up its uranium enrichment rights.

Last month, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said another Middle East war would be “disastrous on a number of levels”.

Hosseini also dismissed the likelihood of any US military strike “in view of the numerous problems the Americans are facing, along with the disastrous situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and (their) domestic problems.”

He did not specify what domestic US problems he was referring to but the Bush administration is facing low approval ratings and an economic downturn during its last year in office.

The United States and its Western allies have accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program, while they have never presented any corroborative document to substantiate their allegations. Iran has denied the charges and insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

Iran is under three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions for turning down West’s illegitimate calls to give up its right of uranium enrichment, saying the demand is politically tainted and illogical.

Iran has so far ruled out halting or limiting its nuclear work in exchange for trade and other incentives, and says it will only negotiate with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has repeatedly said that it considers its nuclear case closed after it answered the UN agency’s questions about the history of its nuclear program.

The US is at loggerheads with Iran over the independent and home-grown nature of Tehran’s nuclear technology, which gives the Islamic Republic the potential to turn into a world power and a role model for other third-world countries. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted the recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran seemed to be completely irrational.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

Tehran says it wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has also insisted that it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhoveyn as well as its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.

US President George W. Bush finished a tour of the Middle East in winter to gain the consensus of his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.

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