Vice President Joe Biden seemed to give Israel a green light for military action to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat, saying the U.S. “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do.”
Israel considers Iran its most dangerous adversary and is wary of hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who just won a disputed re-election. He repeatedly has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and contends the Holocaust is a “myth.”
Israel and the U.S. accuse Iran of seeking to develop weapons under the cover of a nuclear power program. Iran denies that.
“Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else,” Biden told ABC’s “This Week” in an interview broadcast Sunday.
“Whether we agree or not. They’re entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that’s going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed,” Biden said.
The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it prefers to see Iran’s nuclear program stopped through diplomacy but has not ruled out a military strike.
“If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice,” Biden said.
Asked about Biden’s comments, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that the U.S. position on Iran and a military strike involves a “political decision.”
“I have been, for some time, concerned about any strike on Iran. I worry about it being very destabilizing, not just in and of itself but unintended consequences of a strike like that,” Mullen said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“At the same time, I’m one that thinks Iran should not have nuclear weapons. I think that is very destabilizing,” he said.
While most experts are in agreement that there’s a good chance Iran could have a usable nuclear bomb sometime during his presidency, President Barack Obama told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday, “I’m not reconciled with that.”
A nuclear-armed Iran, Obama said, probably would lead to an arms race in the volatile Mideast and that would be “a recipe for potential disaster.” He said opposing a nuclear weapons capacity for Iran was more than just “a U.S. position” and that “the biggest concern is not simply that Iran can threaten us or our allies, like Israel or its neighbors.”
Israel is also concerned about Iran’s close support for two of its most committed enemies, Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Obama said in May, after his first meeting with Netanyahu at the White House, that the Iranians had until year’s end to get serious about international talks on curbing their nuclear ambitions. “We’re not going to have talks forever,” he said.
But Obama sees movement on Israeli-Palestinian peace as key to building a moderate Arab coalition against Iran, while Netanyahu says dealing with the Iranian threat must take precedence over peacemaking with the Palestinians.
Most experts believe that wiping out the Iranian nuclear program is beyond the ability of Israel’s military. In 1982 the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in a lightning strike. But Iran’s facilities are scattered around the country, some of them underground.
Biden was asked in the interview that if the Israelis decide they need to try to take out Iran’s nuclear program, would the U.S. stand in the way militarily?
“We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do,” the vice president replied. “Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.”