U.S. Will Act to Prevent Iran from Developing Nuclear Weapons, Panetta Says

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)