WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 — Iran is America’s greatest concern in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee today.
“No greater threat exists to the security of Israel and to the entire region — and indeed to the United States — than a nuclear-armed Iran,” Panetta told the group. He noted the United States “is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Panetta is the first sitting defense secretary to address the group in 20 years. He spoke about the closeness of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, calling it a partnership. But he kept going back to the danger Iran’s nuclear program poses for the region and the world.
“Let me be clear: we do not have a policy of containment. We have a policy of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” Panetta said.
He detailed the “unprecedented pressure” the Obama administration and international allies have placed on Tehran. The Iranian regime faces crippling sanctions and growing isolation. Its closest ally — the Asad regime in Syria — is tottering and the Iranians face a choice, he said. The regime can “either meet their international obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or violate their international obligations, and face the consequences,” he said.
The United States would rather see a solution come about without the use military force, Panetta said.
“We want diplomacy to work. We will back this diplomacy with strong and increasing pressure … and we will keep all options — including military action — on the table to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Panetta said Iranian leaders must understand that President Barack Obama is not bluffing when he says all options are on the table. He noted the president has made it clear that the United States does not bluff.
“In this town it’s easy to talk tough,” Panetta said. “Acting tough is a helluva lot more difficult.”
He pointed out that Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops into battle in Afghanistan to confront a resurgent Taliban. The president also launched a comprehensive precision bombing campaign to protect the Libyan people, and ultimately toppled a brutal dictator.
“He has ordered U.S. warships to pass through the Strait of Hormuz despite the threats we have received from Iran,” the secretary said. “He has been the driving force behind the most successful and lethal counterterrorism campaign in U.S. history, culminating in the bold decision to send U.S. special operations forces hundreds of miles into Pakistan to take down Bin Laden.”
Panetta said the president has shown he is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the United States, its allies and its interests, and Iranian leaders should not doubt his determination.
“Military action is the last alternative when all else fails,” Panetta said. “But make no mistake, when all else fails, we will act.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)