The United States may be forced to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities if diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic fail, Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Wednesday after a meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem.
Appearing at a news conference with Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Lieberman was unusually harsh in his assessment of the Iranian threat. There is a broad consensus in Congress that military force can be used if necessary to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, he said.
Lieberman cited a recent set of sanctions Congress passed against Iran as a potential deterrent. But he insisted that the goal of keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear power will be accomplished "through diplomatic and economic sanctions if we possibly can, through military actions if we must," according to The Associated Press.
Although U.S. officials often say no option should be taken off the table in relation to Iran's nuclear program, this is one of the few times an official of Lieberman's standing has explicitly used the term "military action" while in Israel, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The group also addressed President Barack Obama’s fence-mending meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the worsening situation with relations with Turkey, whose Islamic government is steadily moving away from the West to a closer relationship with Iran, according to experts. Turkey is one of the United States' oldest and best allies, McCain said.
"Of course, we have been disappointed by the actions and words the Turkish government was used," McCain said. "I hope that at some time the Turkish leadership would lower the rhetoric, reduce it, and try to solve differences in a quiet way."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, appearing with the three senators, said the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama had been "successful."
"I spoke to the prime minister and part of the American National Security Council on the telephone, and we feel that there is a good chance to open direct talks between us and the Palestinians on all of the relevant topics," Barak said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
"I think that the success of this meeting expresses the depth of the basic relationship between us and the US, and between us and the Obama administration, and of the importance of this special relationship on the subject of Israel's security," Barak added.
But Barak didn’t shy away from the fact that relations between Israel and the Obama administration had been troublesome compared with relations under Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. The Israeli ambassador to the United States recently told his fellow diplomats that a major shift is under way with Obama, who has made it a priority to improve relations with the Muslim world.
Barak said, "I don't want to delude us — there will be rises and falls and difficult moments throughout the process, but I believe and hope that we, in the next few weeks, will be in the middle of direct talks that will promote the chances for peace and will ensure the security and interests of Israel."
Iranian officials, meanwhile, said Wednesday that sanctions could slow down its nuclear progress. It was the first time Tehran has acknowledged the measures might have some bite, according to Reuters.
"We cannot say the sanctions have no effect," the head of Iran's atomic energy agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency. "Maybe they will slow down the work but they will not stop it, that's certain."
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad previously has said a new wave of sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union would have no impact on Iran's economy or its nuclear program.
He called the U.S. sanctions, which President Obama said were Washington's toughest ever, "pathetic" and said the U.N. resolution was worth no more than a "used handkerchief."
Salehi, who earlier on Wednesday said Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station would come on stream by the end of the summer, said the plant would not be affected by the sanctions, but Iran's more controversial uranium enrichment program might be, Reuters reported.
"In the case of enrichment and for some equipment like equipment for measuring, we might have some problems," Salehi said. But he added that Iran would be able to produce that equipment itself if necessary.
Iran has said it is prepared to return to talks with world powers on its nuclear program, to discuss a fuel swap under which it would send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad in return for purer material — enriched to 20 percent — that it needs for a medical research reactor.
Iran would continue enriching uranium to 20 percent, an activity that particularly concerns the West because it is a significant step toward making weapons-grade material, Salehi said. Iran, which says its program is for generating electricity and rejects Western suspicions it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, had the right to enrich even further, he said.
"We will not produce 20-percent-enriched uranium more than our needs, but we reserve the right to enrich to whatever level of enrichment for use in peaceful ways," he was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA.
Obama signed into law far-reaching U.S. sanctions this month aimed at squeezing Iran's refined petroleum imports. Among other measures, the latest round of U.N. sanctions, in June, expanded an arms embargo against Tehran and called for new measures against Iranian banks with suspected connections to the country's nuclear or missile programs.
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