Washington D.C., Asharq Al-Awsat- A spokesman for US Central Command [Centcom], Lieutenant Commander Bill Speaks confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the statement made by Centcom Commander General David Petraeus on the status of plans on the possibility of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities comes in the context of the US administrations readiness for all possibilities in dealing with the Iranian file.”
During an interview with CNN on Sunday, General Petraeus had said that “It would be literally irresponsible if Centcom were not to have been thinking about the various ‘what ifs’ and to make plans for a whole variety of different contingencies.” Asked about the vulnerability of Iran’s nuclear installation, Petraeus said “They certainly can be bombed. The level of effect would vary with who it is that carried it out, what ordnance they have, and what capability they can bring to bear.”
Centcom spokesman Lieutenant Commander Bill Speaks also told Asharq Al-Awsat “These plans are part of our routine to prepare for a number of threats.” Speaks refused to give any details about the nature of these plans, or whether the US is coordinating with its allies in the region on this issue, saying only “These plans are related to national security. The issue is related to capabilities and preparations.”
US President Barack Obama last year announced his intention to negotiate with Iran and address the Iranian nuclear file, however the Iranian regime has not responded positively to the American efforts. A deal is currently on the table with regards to Iran giving up its uranium enrichment program in return for receiving already enriched uranium to be used in the Tehran Research Reactor that is used in the manufacturing of medical radioisotopes.
US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said “We have avoided using the term deadline ourselves. That’s not a term we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we’ve also made it clear that we can’t continue to wait and we cannot continue to stand by when the Iranians themselves talk about increasing their production of highly enriched uranium.”
The Iranians rejected this deal, calling for “concrete guarantees” regarding the return of its fuel. However Clinton told reporters that “The P5+1 [countries] will reconvene in New York at the end of this week, and they will be exploring the king and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing.”
The P5+1 countries are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany. This group of countries has been trying to strike a deal with Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program. The initial proposal made by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and the UN, was for Iran to ship its low-grade uranium to Russia where it would be further enriched and then returned to Iran to be used to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor, however the deadline for this deal ran out on 31 December 2009.
Prior to General Petraeus’s statements to CNN, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, Admiral Mike Mullen warned CNN that a strike on Iran could be “very very destabilizing.” Mullen said that he believed that Iran was “on a path that has strategic intent to develop nuclear weapons and has been for some time.” He added “I think that outcome is [also] potentially a very, very, destabilizing outcome.”
In response to Petraeus’s comments, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted by state media as saying “He has made thoughtless comments, and it is better that any statement made in this regard take a constructive approach.” Mehmanparast also confirmed Iran’s readiness to accept “an exchange” of low-grade uranium for highly enriched uranium to fuel the Tehran reactor.
However a senior Iranian official said yesterday that Iran will enrich uranium to 20 percent purity in order to power the Tehran Research Reactor if Western countries refuse to sanction the deal.
Chairman of the Iranian parliaments National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi rejected allegations that Tehran is ready to exchange uranium in a third country, such as Turkey. He said “Iran’s stance is that the nuclear fuel swap must take place in Iranian territory will not change. The West should try to find a way out of the current stalemate rather than creating a brouhaha.”