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 28.

    ref #27

    First theObama nightmare is over in 13 months and we will have a real leader as President.

    We should let Israel do what is necessary and provide them with bunker buster bombs and one of us should take out the ruling mullahs at the same time.

    Will you U.N and El Baraderi backers now admidt he lied during his tenure?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The trouble is with Israel they name it we'll back you even if the USA is the only country in the game. A pre -emptive Israeli strike is likely in the not too distant future. If Obama (who is likely to be the next President) wants to continue the indefinite sabbatical as the World's policeman he will need to make it clear that Israel cannot expect America's support for anything they do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Unless I'm mistaken sanctions against Iraq worked pretty well - unless someone discovered a smoking gun and forgot to tell anyone.
    The solution where the US chooses to make lots of people die is not the default here due to the way the Iraq invasion was mishandled. If you want to drop bombs, you're gonna need more than a bogeyman to point at.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Furthermore, Iran cannot have failed to have learnt the lesson of US policy towards Iraq compared with N. Korea: namely that if you are defenceless, as Iraq was known to be in 2003, you are open to attach. N. Korea, which has a credible deterrant against US aggression, is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    There should be more discussion of Iran's security problem. It is routinely threatened by the superpower and by its regional proxy -a nuclear armed rogue state that flouts international law. The US has bases that surround Iran on three sides: Turkey, Iraq, Saudi, UAE, Oman, Pakistan & Afghanistan: with over 100K troops in the region since 1990. The US also likely supports MEK terrorists in Iran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Iran's nuclear programme is now probably the most closely examined on earth but there is still no good evidence they are weaponizing. At most, they're going for the 'latency' option like Japan and Germany -the ability to produce a weapon at short notice if threatened.

    A handful of Iranian warheads -which is all it could be- would be a deterrant against the US attempts to control the region.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The Iranian people are tired of this Groundhog Day scenario.If you delve into this scenario,you will surely notice that this tumultuous story is for getting interests from the Mullahs.The report is just a stick to milk the cow.Because the scenario was too repetitive they made it look more serious by adding some threats from Israel and some faked allegations.This scenario will go on for the Mullahs

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    A great man once said you can't destroy knowledge. Iran has nuclear know-how but not Nuclear weapons capability. A very big difference. The world should be more worried about Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia N Korea. The world should be stopping wars like in Africa and elsewhere not starting wars based on an assumption that maybe Iran might have a weapon in 5 years and only if the IAEA leaves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The Iraq war was based oni lies and its obvious the same people are trying to start this one. The Iraq war killed or left displaced one million Iraqiss, and 5,000 US and coalition soldiers, not too mention 50,000 wounded.
    A war in Iran based on lies or preventing non existent nukes would destroy the world and western economy. Iran is 80 million diverse people, this is not Libya or Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This report does not suggest Iran has nuclear weapons or is even close. They are being monitored by the IAEA and are enriching non weapons grade uranium, a far cry from weapons grade, which they can not master. All the while the Israelis have 300 clandestine nuclear weapons. Iran is a rational state and after the debacle in Iraq that may have killed a million Iraqis who would want another war?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Iran is a menace. And quite frankly this talk of 'sanctions' 'international pressure' and 'isolation' is the same thing we've heard last year.. and the year before that....

    The Deja Vu makes it seem like Obama just doesn't care..

    A military strike has been PROVEN to work both in Iraq and Syria, while sanctions worked in neither. Air power is a potent weapon, just look at Libya.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Additional sanctions will achieve nothing as they are easily circumvented. The Islamic Republic is ideologically motivated and can readily shrug off any inconvenience caused. The only way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear arsenal is military action and nearly all will be conducted by aerial bombing and cruise missiles. There is no need to control territory as in Afghanistan or Iraq.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    What separates a leader from a politician is that they are not afraid to make the tough decisions, even if it may cost them reelection. Protecting America and her allies isn't always popular, but that doesn't make it any less essential. America's enemies aren't sucking their thumbs, waiting for us to get out of recession, so why is it that we ignore them for the sake of domestic issues?


  • rate this

    Comment number 15.


    "Even if Iran had a couple of nuclear weapons.."


    "But if Iran is attacked, they are likely to respond with everything they got."

    With both nuclear weapons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I agree with Pres. Obama on the Iranian nuclear weapons affair for now. War is the last thing either side needs. I think they way to go is sabotage & cyber warfare. But if we must strike, we should do it from a position of strength. I hope that the Iranians have enough smarts to realize that any war between us would result in the devastation of their country, not ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Even if Iran had a couple of nuclear weapons, they would not dare to attack Israel, a most formidable nuclear power. But if Iran is attacked, they are likely to respond with everything they got. They would hit Dimona and Israel would suffer a nuclear disaster, exactly what she is trying to avoid.
    Does an attack on Iran really make any sense?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I think there is much more that goes on behind the scene that is not told to the Press and for very good reason, aside from the fact the Press is well, the Press.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    #10 Greatness is not hereditary. Look at Italy, if you need additional clarifications.

    "The actions of the IDF, however, are very difficult to predict..."

    Iran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, as long as they have mullahs running the country. Full stop.

    If the West doesn't see to it, Israel will. Ultimately, Israel is in greater danger from Iran, than any other nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Iran is a great country, really - with a history that reaches back to the foundations of human civilization.

    They are not fools; they have no wish to force a conflict, and face-off against the US Marines, a US Navy carrier battle group, or the American Strategic Air Command... nor does the United States want such a conflict. The actions of the IDF, however, are very difficult to predict...

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    WAR. ..war... war…! yes… yes… open another front. Horry... Horry up... yes the weapon manufacturers are beating drums. Give me a break!!! We are in enough mess already. Please start another one in Persia. go0d luck!!!!


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