Britain Reportedly Denies U.S. Bid to Use Bases for Any Iran Strike

A U.S. B-52 strategic bomber lands at Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia in 1997. The United Kingdom has reportedly rejected a U.S. request to potentially use installations on Diego Garcia and in other British territories for staging any potential strike on Iran (U.S. Air Force photo).
A U.S. B-52 strategic bomber lands at Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia in 1997. The United Kingdom has reportedly rejected a U.S. request to potentially use installations on Diego Garcia and in other British territories for staging any potential strike on Iran (U.S. Air Force photo).

The United States has unsuccessfully sought a go-ahead from London to employ U.K. military bases, including those at a number of outlying British territories, as staging grounds for a potential attack against Iran, the London Guardian reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

Authorization for Washington to operate from British armed forces installations on Cyprus was one objective pursued by U.S. envoys, according to the newspaper. In addition, the United States requested consent to deploy aircraft from U.S. armed forces facilities on the British holdings of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, the report states.

The Obama administration has indicated it might attempt to curb Iran's atomic ambitions through military action, but only if intensified sanctions and diplomatic engagement fail to eliminate concerns that Iran's atomic activities are geared toward establishment of a nuclear-weapon capability. Tehran insists its atomic ambitions are purely peaceful.

In a document submitted to the residence of British Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as to the United Kingdom's Foreign Office and Defense Ministry, the attorney general's office recommended against granting Washington's requests on grounds that Tehran does not presently meet the global legal threshold of posing "a clear and present threat."

"The U.K. would be in breach of international law if it facilitated what amounted to a pre-emptive strike on Iran," one high-level British insider said. "It is explicit. The government has been using this to push back against the Americans."

Washington to date has limited its inquiries to informal probes of the British government's stance on use of the sites, insiders said, indicating the Obama administration had not officially petitioned London on the matter.

"But I think the U.S. has been surprised that ministers have been reluctant to provide assurances about this kind of upfront assistance" from the United Kingdom's Conservative Party-led government, one observer said. "They'd expect resistance from senior Liberal Democrats, but it's Tories as well. That has come as a bit of a surprise."

London stated it is "working closely with the U.S. with regard to U.K. bases," the Guardian reported separately on Friday. Still, the government indicated it "does not think military action is the right course at this point of time."

The United Kingdom "does not believe military action against Iran is the right course of action at this time, although no option is off the table," the Foreign Office said separately. "We believe that the twin-track approach of pressure through sanctions, which are having an impact, and engagement with Iran is the best way to resolve the nuclear issue. We are not going to speculate about scenarios in which military action would be legal. That would depend on the circumstances at the time."

Potential courses of action were the focus of a discussion held in Florida several months ago by U.S. military planners and a British armed forces team in which the Royal Navy had significant representation, the Guardian reported. The United Kingdom's routine Persian Gulf deployments can include as many as 10 warships, including an atomic-powered submarine and vessels for eliminating water-based explosives.

One insider, though, said "it is quite likely that if the Israelis decided to attack Iran, or the Americans felt they had to do it for the Israelis or in support of them, the U.K. would not be told beforehand."

"In some respects, the U.K. government would prefer it that way," the speaker added.

Meanwhile, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary Ali Bagheri spoke by telephone on Wednesday with Helga Schmid, a deputy for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Agence France-Presse reported. Ashton has communicated with Tehran on behalf of six governments engaging with Iran over its nuclear program: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"The call took place in the context of ongoing diplomatic efforts ... towards a diplomatic solution of the Iranian nuclear issue," an Ashton spokesman said. The exchange "was used to inform Iran" of developments related to a discussion last month between representatives from the six negotiating powers, the official said.

The nations had "stressed their determination to work for a diplomatic solution and the need for Iran to engage urgently in a confidence-building process aimed at resolving international concerns about the nature of its nuclear program," according to the spokesman.

Ashton is due to speak again with Iranian senior nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili "in order to discuss the next steps in our negotiations," the official said.

Elsewhere, the White House avoided offering any direct response to assertions that Iran has nearly finished deploying equipment at its hardened Qum uranium enrichment complex, the New York Times reported on Thursday. The claims, which originated in multiple governments, came from intelligence insiders knowledgeable of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards audits of Iranian nuclear sites.

“While we can’t comment on a report that has yet to be released, we remain concerned about Iran’s defiance of its international obligations,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

President Obama "is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and continues to believe there is time and space for diplomacy,” Vietor added.

A determination that the Qum facility is invulnerable to a unilateral Israeli attack seemed to have prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apparent suggestion last month that Tel Aviv could defer an armed campaign against Iran until early next year, U.S. and European government personnel said.

Former U.S. State Department analyst Mark Fitzpatrick added: “When slapped with new sanctions, Iran typically likes to pick up the pace of its enrichment work to try to show that it can’t be pressured into submission.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Monday told its offices in various countries that Netanyahu had denied being informed of any push by Iran and the United States to organize direct nuclear discussions, according to another Thursday report by the Times. Tehran and Washington have rejected a recent account by the newspaper of efforts to arrange such an exchange.

“We remind that the P.M. asked that all requests for interviews in the matter require his approval,” an internal Foreign Ministry e-mail states.

Two days earlier, though, one high-level Israeli government insider had said Tel Aviv knew of work to plan direct discussions. Israel would not oppose such an exchange if the Obama administration pressed Iran in any bilateral session to halt uranium refinement, relinquish enriched material and abandon any project to incorporate the fissile substance in bombs, the source told the Times.

Shortly after, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the newspaper that his country had received no information from the White House on a deal to plan a bilateral exchange, and "we do not think Iran should be rewarded with direct talks.” Oren said a senior-level official in Jerusalem had cleared his statement.

Netanyahu and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Thursday said they had discussed "the great economic and security challenges, and reiterated the importance of our position that Iran be prevented from achieving nuclear weapons, and that sanctions and international pressure must be applied to this end," the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter on Thursday said his government opposed economic punitive steps taken against Tehran by specific states, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.

"As a rule, we don't support such sanctions," he said after conferring with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

October 26, 2012
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The United States has unsuccessfully sought a go-ahead from London to employ U.K. military bases, including those at a number of outlying British territories, as staging grounds for a potential attack against Iran, the London Guardian reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

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