Israel has not yet decided whether to strike Iran’s nuclear programme, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday. When asked about the issue at a press conference, Panetta offered reassurances, echoing the White House line that there is still time to negotiate a solution to the nuclear showdown. “I’ve said this before, I’ll say it now – I don’t believe they made a decision as to whether or not they will – they will go in and attack Iran at this time,” Panetta told reporters.
“Obviously, they’re an independent – they’re a sovereign country. They’ll ultimately make decisions based on what they think is in their national security interest,” he added. “The reality is that we still think there is room to continue to negotiate.” Earlier this month, Panetta visited Israel where he urged that diplomacy and economic pressure on Iran be given more time to work.
Also at the press conference in the Pentagon, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that an Israeli military strike would likely only delay Iran’s nuclear programme, but not remove it altogether.
“I may not know about all of their capabilities. But I think that it’s a fair characterisation to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” Dempsey said.
According to recent Israeli media reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak in recent days had hardened their rhetoric on Iran, suggesting they were thinking more seriously of military action against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
Repeated rounds of talks between Iran and the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – plus Germany have failed to end the standoff. Tehran has refused to make major concessions on its right to enrich uranium, a process used to make nuclear fuel but also the core of an atomic weapon.