WASHINGTON -- Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman said today a U.S. military strike against Iran could be a viable option should Tehran continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons (see GSN, Sept. 29).
"It is time to retire our ambiguous mantra about all options remaining on the table," Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in an address at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is time for our message to our friends and enemies in the region to become clearer: namely, that we will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability -- by peaceful means if we possibly can but with military force if we absolutely must."
The Connecticut senator said the United States will not wait indefinitely for Iran's cooperation before considering options beyond diplomacy. He reiterated last week's warning by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) who said the Obama administration has "months, not years," to make sanctions work.
Lieberman's remarks coincided with President Obama's signing of an executive order levying sanctions against eight specific individuals accused of human rights violations, including Iranian government officials, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps and others.
This came as the White House has been hardening its rhetoric on Iran. Obama used his address at the U.N. General Assembly last week to charge that Iran is the only party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that "cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program."
"Those actions have consequences," Obama said.
The U.S. military, while acknowledging that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, remains concerned about the consequences of a strike. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has often warned that a military strike against Iran might open up a "third front" and have serious ripple effects throughout the Middle East.
Lieberman said it would be a "failure of U.S. leadership" if Israel launched a unilateral strike on Iran and that America must protect its commitments abroad.
"If military action must come, the United States is in the strongest position to confront Iran and manage the regional consequences. This is not a responsibility we should outsource," Lieberman said. "We can and should coordinate with our many allies who share our interest in stopping a nuclear Iran, but we cannot delegate our global responsibilities to them."
While answering questions after his speech, Lieberman commended Obama's diplomacy in gaining the U.N. Security Council's approval in June for new sanctions against Iran. The sanctions passed with 12 votes, with "no" votes cast by Turkey and Brazil and an abstention from Lebanon.
"[Obama] has been working hard with our allies, some of which are taking actions that are not in their own mercantile interests to impose sanctions," Lieberman said, referring indirectly to support for sanctions by China and Russia. "That does not happen on its own."
Just last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev banned what would have been a nearly $800 million sale of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran because of U.N. sanctions, which include an arms embargo.
The sale also had been opposed by Israel, whose officials had noted that the high-precision missile system would strengthen Iran's ability to defend its nuclear facilities from air attacks.