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Former Pentagon Chief Urges Diplomacy With Iran On Nuke Program

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday night strongly warned against a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and urged the United States and its allies to pursue a diplomatic course to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Speaking before an audience in Norfolk, VA, Gates — a Republican who served as Pentagon chief in both the Bush and Obama administrations — said an attack would make a nuclear armed Iran more likely and have “catastrophic” consequences, the Virginian Pilot reports:

Neither the United States nor Israel is capable of wiping out Iran’s nuclear capability, he said, and “such an attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.” […]

“The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world.”

Referring to recent protests against the falling value of Iran’s currency, Gates added that the international sanctions regime facilitated by the Obama administration is beginning to have an impact on the Iranian economy. “[T]hat’s our best chance going forward, to ratchet up the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation to the point where the Iranian leadership concludes that it actually hurts Iranian security and, above all, the security of the regime itself, to continue to pursue nuclear weapons,” he said.

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Gates has been warning against an attack on Iran for some time, saying back in 2008 that a war with Iran “would be disastrous” and “the last thing we need.”

But the former Defense Secretary’s comments last night echo assessments from various experts and current and former U.S. and Israeli officials that an attack would only delay Iran’s nuclear program and give leaders there incentive to weaponize — a point the New York Times picked up on last weekend. “In reports, talks, articles and interviews,” the Times reported on Sept. 30, scholars and military and arms-control experts “argue that a strike could actually lead to Iran’s speeding up its efforts, ensuring the realization of a bomb and hastening its arrival.”

A recent bipartisan expert report, whose signatories include Brent Scowcroft, ret. Adm. William Fallon, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, ret. Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Amb. Thomas Pickering, recently concluded that an attack on Iran would only delay, not end, its nuclear program and would risk an “all-out regional war’ lasting “several years.” Aside from the military and geopolitical implications, another recently released study concluded that thousands of Iranians would die in an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Obama administration is aware, not only of the threat an Iranian nuclear weapon poses, but also the potential negative consequences of a military attack on Iran, such as those outlined in the bipartisan expert report. And that, coupled with U.N., U.S. and Israeli assessments that Iran has not yet decided on whether to build a nuclear weapon, leads the administration to pursue a diplomatic solution with Iran, a track the it deems the “best and most permanent way” to solve the nuclear crisis.