Mullen: US ‘very ready’ to counter Iran on nukes

The Pak Banker - - 6international -

MANAMA: Iran is try­ing to build a nu­clear bomb, pos­ing a threat to its neigh­bors, and the United States is "very ready" to counter Iran should it make a move, the top U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cer said Satur­day.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to re­as­sure Per­sian Gulf na­tions ner­vous that an in­creas­ingly mil­i­ta­rized govern­ment in Iran might try to start a war.

"The United States takes very se­ri­ously our se­cu­rity com­mit­ments in the Gulf re­gion," Mullen said fol­low­ing a meet­ing with Bahrain's king. Bahrain, di­rectly across the Gulf from Iran, is home to a large U.S. Navy base that would be on the front lines of any war with Iran.

"We're very ready," Mullen said, an un­usu­ally di­rect ac­knowl­edg­ment that the United States has con­tin­gency plans to counter Iran should it make a move. "There are real threats to peace and sta­bil­ity here, and we've made no se­crets of our con­cerns about Iran."

In Iran, the new for­eign min­is­ter - and cur­rent nu­clear chief - said Satur­day that he wants to build the coun­try's re­la­tion­ship with Saudi Ara­bia and strengthen ties with Turkey, China and Rus­sia. The lat­ter two coun­tries have veto power on the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil that could help Iran as it tries to fend off tougher sanc­tions. Ali Ak­bar Salehi, who heads the Atomic En­ergy Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Iran, re­placed long­time for­eign min­is­ter Manouchehr Mot­taki, who was fired Mon­day by Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad with­out pub­lic ex­pla­na­tion.

Iran de­nies it is seek­ing a nu­clear weapon, and de­nies U.S. claims that it spon­sors ter­ror­ists. Iran has wary re­la­tions with many of its neigh­bors, who are trad­ing part­ners with the oil gi­ant but dis­trust the theo­cratic govern­ment.

"Con­cerns about Iran's nu­clear pro­gram are very real and in­form a lot of the de­ci­sion mak­ing" among Gulf na­tions, said Adam Ereli, the U.S. am­bas­sador in Bahrain.

The U.S. fears that if Iran masters the tech­ni­cal chal­lenge of build­ing a bomb it could set off a nu­clear arms race around the Gulf.

"From my per­spec­tive I see Iran con­tin­u­ing on this path to de­velop nu­clear weapons, and I be­lieve that that devel­op­ment and achiev­ing that goal would be very desta­bi­liz­ing to the re­gion," Mullen said.

He gave no specifics about U.S. plans or de­fenses, but the Navy base is head­quar­ters for ships and air­craft that monitor Iran and could be used to de­ter or de­fend against what mil­i­tary of­fi­cials fear would be an at­tack that would come with­out warn­ing. The base also houses Pa­triot mis­siles.

The U.S. keeps tabs on Iran through ex­ten­sive air sur­veil­lance in the Gulf and from naval pa­trols that reg­u­larly en­gage in for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Ira­nian ships.

"I would like some­day to think that they would be re­spon­si­ble re­gional and in­ter­na­tional play­ers as op­posed to what they are right now," Mullen added. "I just haven't seen any steps taken in that re­gard."

Mullen said he sup­ports the cur­rent strat­egy of ap­ply­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sanc­tions on Iran to try to dis­suade it from build­ing a bomb, while en­gag­ing Iran in in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions over the scope of its nu­clear pro­gram. Iran claims it is seek­ing nu­clear en­ergy. Mullen re­peated his view that a pre-emp­tive mil­i­tary strike on Iran's known nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties is a bad op­tion that would set off "un­in­tended con­se­quences," but one the United States re­serves the right to use. -Ap

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