By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
JERUSALEM, July 27-- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday stressed engagement and economic sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, prompting his Israeli counterpart to insist that "no options" should be ruled out if diplomacy fails.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a short news conference with Gates, who was visiting here, twice raised the possibility that military action might be needed to stop Iran's nuclear program.
"We clearly believe that no options should be removed from the table," Barak said. "This is our policy. We mean it. We recommend others to take the same position, but we do not dictate to anyone."
Gates steered clear of any talk of military options. Although the Obama administration has not ruled out using military force against Tehran, it has focused most of its attention on drawing the Iranians into talks over their nuclear program and convincing them that developing a nuclear bomb is not in their best interest. Gates said the administration hopes to have by the fall an initial response from Iran regarding its entreaties.
If the talks fail, he said, stiff international economic sanctions on Tehran would be in order.
"I think we're in full agreement [with Israel] on the negative consequences of Iran obtaining this kind of capability," Gates said. "I think we are also agreed that it is important to take every opportunity to try and persuade the Iranians to reconsider what is actually in their own security interest."
The Israelis haven't outwardly, or in private, opposed talks between the United States and Iran, U.S. defense officials said. But Barak's remarks made it clear the Israelis remain deeply skeptical that any engagement will dissuade Iran from its nuclear ambitions.
Despite the outward differences in tone, both Gates and Barak stressed that the opening for engagement with Iran is limited. "If there is an engagement, we believe it should be short in time, well defined in objectives, followed by sanctions," Barak said.
Gates also warned that Iran would not be allowed to use the cover of engagement to "run out the clock" while it continues to make progress in the nuclear program.
The half-day trip to Israel marked Gates's second visit to the Jewish state as defense secretary. From the outset of his tenure as Pentagon chief, Gates has stressed that any strike by the United States or Israel on Iran would profoundly destabilize the Middle East. He has also said repeatedly that an Iranian nuclear weapon would provoke an arms race in the region that would be very damaging.
Iran denies trying to develop a nuclear weapon, saying it is trying to develop nuclear reactors for generating domestic power.