US official: Iran military strike ‘off the table’

The U.S. has ruled out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program any time soon, hoping instead negotiations and United Nations sanctions will prevent the Middle East nation from developing nuclear weapons, a top U.S. defense department official said Wednesday.

“Military force is an option of last resort,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said during a press briefing in Singapore. “It’s off the table in the near term.”

The U.S. and its allies fear Tehran is using its nuclear program to build arms. Iran denies the charges, and says its program only aims to generate electricity.

“Right now the focus is a combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions,” Flournoy said. “We have not seen Iran engage productively in response.”

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted Wednesday by Iran’s state media saying the country won’t give in to U.S. pressure. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard is preparing to hold large-scale military maneuvers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

“We’ve said time and again that we are not after weapons of mass destruction but the Iranian nation won’t give in to such threats and will bring those threatening it to their knees,” Khamenei said.

Iran has rejected a 2009 U.N.-backed plan that offered nuclear fuel rods to Tehran in exchange for Iran’s stock of lower-level enriched uranium. The swap would curb Tehran’s capacity to make a nuclear bomb.

But Iran has proposed variations on the deal, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday that a fuel agreement could be a chance to boost trust with the West.

Earlier this week, he said Iran wants direct talks about the deal with all the U.N. Security Council members, except one with which it would have indirect talks — a reference to the United States, which with Tehran has no relations.

The U.S. is lobbying heavily in the Security Council for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Associated Press Writer Ali Akbar Dareini in Dubai contributed to this story.

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