Yochi J. Dreazen – Wall Street Journal July 8, 2009
The top U.S. military officer warned that the "window is closing" for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, highlighting the difficult choices facing the Obama administration in the wake of last month's disputed elections.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he supported the administration's outreach to Tehran despite a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters there.
He also cautioned that a possible Israeli military strike on Iran risked destabilizing the broader Middle East and triggering retaliatory Iranian attacks elsewhere in the world.
But Adm. Mullen told a Washington think tank that Iran was likely just one to three years away from successfully building a nuclear weapon, which means that the U.S. and its allies are running out of time to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program. "Iran is very focused on developing this capability," he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The clock is ticking and that's why I'm as concerned as I am."
Iran has consistently denied that it is pursuing nuclear weapons and has said its nuclear program is instead designed solely to produce electricity.
Adm. Mullen's comments come as the administration grapples with how to recalibrate its policy toward Tehran amid indications of election irregularities
in favor of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In interviews over the weekend, President Barack Obama said that his administration remained open to direct negotiations with Tehran. The president also said that the U.S. opposed any Israeli military strike on Iran, rebuffing suggestions that Vice President Joe Biden had signaled a change in administration policy when he told a television interviewer that "Israel can determine for itself
" whether to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.
Still, the fallout from the Iranian political crisis has left the administration in a bind. Leading lawmakers from both parties have suggested that the White House delay or abandon its diplomatic outreach to Iran, a cornerstone of Mr. Obama's foreign policy.
In his remarks Tuesday, Adm. Mullen said that the U.S. is keeping all options on the table as it worked to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, "including certainly military options." The comment was a departure for Adm. Mullen, who rarely talks explicitly about using force against Iran.
Still, Adm. Mullen made clear that an Israeli strike was far more likely than an American one.
Israel has signaled that it may be preparing for a military strike on Iran. Earlier this week, an Israeli submarine believed to be carrying nuclear-tipped missiles returned to the Mediterranean after crossing the Red Sea and moving towards Iran. An Israeli official said in an interview that the maneuver was meant to show Iran that "they are not beyond our reach."
Last updated 11/07/2009