Panetta, Dempsey Discuss Iranian Situation

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2012 — Defense Depart­ment lead­ers agree inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic pres­sure rep­re­sents a bet­ter option than mil­i­tary action in deal­ing with Iran.

In an inter­view with Bob Schi­ef­fer that aired today on the CBS news pro­gram “Face the Nation,” Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and Joint Chiefs Chair­man Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey said while the U.S. gov­ern­ment prefers to peace­ful­ly resolve fric­tion with Iran, the depart­ment close­ly mon­i­tors Iran’s nuclear pro­gram and actions affect­ing the Strait of Hor­muz.

“We know that they’re try­ing to devel­op a nuclear capa­bil­i­ty, and that’s what con­cerns us,” Panet­ta said. “Our red line to Iran is: do not devel­op a nuclear weapon.”

The sec­re­tary not­ed all options to counter Iran, includ­ing mil­i­tary action, remain on the table.

“But the respon­si­ble thing to do right now is to keep putting diplo­mat­ic and eco­nom­ic pres­sure on them to force them to do the right thing, and to make sure they do not make the deci­sion to pro­ceed with the devel­op­ment of a nuclear weapon,” he said.

U.S. sanc­tions against Iran date to 1979, when an exec­u­tive order froze Iran­ian assets in the Unit­ed States in response to Iran­ian stu­dents’ hostage tak­ing at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

U.S. sanc­tions increased with a 1984 order lim­it­ing arms sales and pro­hibit­ing inter­na­tion­al loans to Iran. A 1987 exec­u­tive order banned imports of Iran­ian-ori­gin goods and ser­vices in response to aggres­sive action against ship­ping in the Per­sian Gulf.

Respond­ing to Iran’s sup­port of inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism and pur­suit of weapons of mass destruc­tion, the Unit­ed States imposed fur­ther sanc­tions in 1995, bar­ring U.S. involve­ment with petro­le­um devel­op­ment in Iran.

Addi­tion­al sanc­tions in 1997, 2008 and 2010 lim­it­ed U.S. invest­ment, fund trans­fers and food trade with Iran. The 2012 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act impos­es sanc­tions against Iran’s cen­tral bank, affect­ing Iran­ian oil exports to nations that do busi­ness with the Unit­ed States.

The UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil has imposed four rounds of eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Iran, most recent­ly in 2010.

Panet­ta said the inter­na­tion­al strat­e­gy toward Iran — “to try to con­vince [them] that if they want to do what’s right, they need to join the inter­na­tion­al fam­i­ly of nations and act in a respon­si­ble way — is work­ing.”

The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty should con­tin­ue work­ing togeth­er on issues relat­ing to Iran, he said.

“We have com­mon cause here,” Panet­ta said. “We’re not inter­est­ed in them devel­op­ing a nuclear weapon; we are not inter­est­ed in them pro­lif­er­at­ing vio­lence through­out that region; we are not inter­est­ed in them try­ing to assist in ter­ror­ism; we are not inter­est­ed in them try­ing to desta­bi­lize gov­ern­ments in that region or any­place else.”

If Iran takes the step to devel­op a nuclear weapon, he added, “They’re going to get stopped.”

Iran devel­op­ing a nuclear weapon or block­ing the Strait of Hor­muz both rep­re­sent “red lines” for the Unit­ed States, the sec­re­tary said. The Iran­ian gov­ern­ment has threat­ened to pro­hib­it or restrict inter­na­tion­al mar­itime tran­sit through the strait, which con­nects the Gulf of Oman and the Per­sian Gulf, and is the only ocean access for most Per­sian Gulf nations.

Iran could close the strait for a time, Dempsey said, but the Unit­ed States has the abil­i­ty to reopen the water­way.

“Yes, they can block it,” the chair­man said. “We’ve described that as an intol­er­a­ble act, and it’s not just intol­er­a­ble for us, it’s intol­er­a­ble to the world. But we would take action and reopen the straits.”

Dempsey said his job as the nation’s senior mil­i­tary offi­cer is to ensure U.S. forces are pre­pared for any action they are ordered to car­ry out.

“My respon­si­bil­i­ty [regard­ing Iran] is to encour­age the right degree of plan­ning, to under­stand the risks asso­ci­at­ed with any kind of mil­i­tary action, [and] in some cas­es to posi­tion assets to pro­vide those options in a time­ly fash­ion,” he said. “And all those activ­i­ties are going on. ”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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