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Strike on Iran Still Possible

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - July 31, 2008
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Strike on Iran Still Possible, US Tells Israel
by: Paul Richter and Julian E. Barnes, The Los Angeles Times

Washington - Bush administration officials reassured 
Israel's defense minister this week that the United States 
has not abandoned all possibility of a military attack on 
Iran, despite widespread Israeli concern that Washington 
has begun softening its position toward Tehran. 

In meetings Monday and Tuesday, administration officials 
told Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the option of 
attacking Iran over its nuclear program remains on the 
table, though U.S. officials are primarily seeking a 
diplomatic solution. 

At the same time, U.S. officials acknowledged that there 
is a rare divergence in the U.S. and Israeli approaches, 
with Israelis emphasizing the possibility of a military 
response out of concern that Tehran may soon have the 
know-how for building a nuclear bomb. 

"Is there a difference of emphasis? It certainly looks as 
though there is," said a senior American Defense official, 
speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the 
sensitive talks. 

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U.S. and Israeli officials believe Iran is enriching 
uranium with the aim of building nuclear weapons. 

Tehran says that it is engaged in a peaceful enrichment 
program for civilian energy purposes. 

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said in an interview 
that U.S. officials have often made it clear to Israeli 
officials that Washington prefers to try to mitigate the 
threat from Tehran by applying economic pressure. 

"The military option, although always available, is not 
our preferred route," Morrell said. 

"We have made that point clear to them and the world in 
our public statements and private meetings."

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Barak left Israel for Washington amid reports in the 
Israeli press that he would try to talk the Bush 
administration out of what many Israelis perceive as 
a more conciliatory policy toward Iran. 

On Tuesday, the Israeli Defense Ministry released a 
statement saying that Barak had told Defense Secretary 
Robert M. Gates that "a policy that consists of keeping 
all options on the table must be maintained." 

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Barak said that 
there remains time for "accelerated sanctions" to try to 
persuade Iran to abandon the nuclear program. 

Israeli officials were concerned in December when a key 
U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran had abandoned 
an effort to build a nuclear bomb. They also have noted 
with concern comments this month by Navy Adm. Michael G. 
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that an 
Israeli airstrike on Iran would further destabilize the 
Middle East and compound the strain on overworked U.S. 
forces. 

Also this month, in a rare move toward engagement with 
Tehran, a senior U.S. diplomat took part in international 
talks in Geneva about the nuclear program. 

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And U.S. officials have floated a proposal for opening a 
low-level diplomatic office in Tehran. 

These gestures have taken place at a time of intensifying 
discussion in Israel about the wisdom of an Israeli 
military attack on Iran before the Bush administration 
leaves office. 

A senior State Department official said Tuesday that Israel 
"is a sovereign state and we understand that they view this 
as an existential threat. And we take the threat that's 
posed by Iran seriously as well." 

But the official, who asked to remain unidentified in 
keeping with diplomatic rules, said the administration 
is "pursuing the strategy we believe is the right one." 

Gates, in an hourlong meeting with Barak, told the minister 
that the United States intends to consider providing radar 
to Israel that can detect ballistic missiles launched from 
Iran and supplying weapons to counter rocket attacks from 
Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, according to a senior Defense 
official. 

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