Why the White House is not on the war path over Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 8 April 2008 Iran's leaders have long said their nuclear programme is about power generation, not weapons

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The US is going to press for new economic sanctions against Iran, this time after the latest UN report on Iran's nuclear plans.

Senior officials say they will try to "ratchet up the pressure" on Iran, making it more expensive to do business in that country, with the aim of hurting its economy.

But what they are not doing is more important. The White House is not dusting off any military plans.

When I asked an official about the military option, he said that nothing was off the table but there was "plenty of space" to build more pressure through sanctions. Iran had to demonstrate to the world that its nuclear programme was peaceful, he said.

What then about the possibility of an Israeli attack? Sources close to the US administration have told the BBC that they don't think that is on the cards either. Any such talk is sabre-rattling. I don't get the impression the White House worries that the report would lead Israel to take action.

In fact, they almost seem to be playing the whole thing down, saying the report shows that between 1998 and 2003, Iran had a "very structured, very well-organised" nuclear weapons programme under the auspices of its ministry of defence. It was "soup to nuts", as one official put it.

But this programme was abandoned, one of the main sites literally bulldozed into the ground. Since then there have been "tell-tale signs of nuclear weapons work" which raise "very serious concerns".

Is Iran nearer to making a nuclear bomb now than it was in 2003, I asked.

"There has been some advancement, but it hasn't been that dramatic," the official said, adding that the report did not have a firm conclusion about this.

The White House could hardly sound less bellicose.

It is not surprising. The last thing Barack Obama wants is an attack. It is, one hopes, hardly his main consideration, but in the approach to an election year, domestic politics do play.

Any action would dominate a campaign, distract from what he wants to say on the US economy and undermine the support of his Democratic base.

More importantly, Mr Obama is likely to share the view of experts who say an attack would not achieve its goals, and instead spiral out of control into a regional war. That would most likely plunge the US and Europe into a new recession.

From the Oval Office, more sanctions look like an altogether safer bet than war.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    It is more important whether Iran is building an atomic bomb for destructive purposes or atomic energy for peaceful means. I personally feel US should more concentrate on it's priorities of job creation, reducing the public debt, and increasing it's image on the world stage as a facilitator of world peace and use its might only in this direction rather than waging a war. War is destructive to both

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Ahmadinejad is great at PR on a global scale... I am unable to name any previous Iranian leader.

    His strategy is to hold onto power through oppressing his people and making headline grabbing claims such as "the holocaust did not happen" which help him win worldwide support from people who hate the way we live.

    He has as many powerful friends as he does enemies. The marmite man :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    It would be a catagorical mistake for the US to send troops/attack Iran. Nobody wants another Iraq, it's time for the US to stop getting involved in affairs in the Middle East.

    The reality is, Iran is never going to use a Nuclear Weapon, on Israel, the US or anybody else. Let Ahmadinejad build one. If he even tries to use it - he'd be gone in days. He just wants the status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    I hope that before you make up your mind about Iran in relation to nuclear weapons you will listen to the commentary by a former US Representative from California. The link:


  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    There are plenty of pro-Israeli crazies out there as well, particularly in the US Congress and at New York Times.Carol Moore references all her statements. Can you disprove the statement (or her reference) from 1977?

    lol, her sunspot theory may be a bit ahead of our time :D. I am moving on from this article. Catch you, JClarkson, on the next one!


Comments 5 of 168



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