US military chief warns of strike on Iran nuclear facilities
America's most senior military officer said yesterday that a US strike against Iran would go "a long way" to delaying Tehran's nuclear programme.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that attacking Iran was a "last option" but made it clear that military plans had been drawn up.
Speaking at a forum at Columbia University, he said: "We in the Pentagon, we plan for contingencies all the time and certainly there are options which exist."
He stressed that he preferred a peaceful solution to the issue of what is viewed by Washington and its allies as a relentless drive by Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. But Adm Mullen's calculated mention of military options marked a startling toughening of tone from the Pentagon.
"The diplomatic, the engagement piece, the sanctions piece, all those things, from my perspective, need to be addressed to possibly have Iran change its mind about where it's headed," he said.
Adm Mullen was speaking the day after Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief, warned President Barack Obama in a secret memo that the White House has no effective policy for dealing with a nuclear Iran.
In the memo, Mr Gates outlined a scenario -- viewed in Washington as increasingly likely -- in which Iran would gather all the major parts required for a nuclear weapon but stop just short of assembling them. This would mean that Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, while becoming a "virtual" nuclear weapons state.
One senior official described the memo as "a wake-up call" and urged the White House to think about the possibility that nuclear fuel or weapons could be obtained by a terrorist group supported by Tehran.
Mr Gates issued a statement yesterday saying he had identified the "next steps in our defence planning process" that would be reviewed by decision makers. "There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries that the United States is properly and energetically focused on this question and prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests," he said.
The West accuses Tehran of seeking to produce atomic weapons but Tehran says it wants only to generate electricity. Iran announced yesterday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had approved the locations for new uranium enrichment plants, and "construction at these sites will start with his order". (© Daily Telegraph, London)