Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Cheney pushes Bush to act on Iran nuclear program

INTERNAL POWER STRUGGLE No decision is expected until next year but reportedly neither man believes that the next administration will act decisively against Tehran


The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favor of military action before US President George W. Bush leaves office in 18 months. The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department over the past month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran.

A well-placed source in Washington said: "Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo."

The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vice President Dick Cheney has long favored upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Last year Bush came down in favor of Rice, who along with the UK, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a meeting of the White House, Pentagon and State Department last month, Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Bush sided with him.

"The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," the source said last week.

Undersecretary of State Nick Burns, a career diplomat who is responsible for Iran issues and is one of the main advocates of negotiation, told the meeting it was likely that diplomatic maneuvering would still be continuing in January 2009. That assessment went down badly with Cheney and Bush.

"Cheney has limited capital left, but if he wanted to use all his capital on this one issue, he could still have an impact," said Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Washington source said Bush and Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively.

They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

"The red line is not in Iran. The red line is in Israel. If Israel is adamant it will attack, the US will have to take decisive action," Cronin said. "The choices are: tell Israel no, let Israel do the job, or do the job yourself."

Almost half of the US' 277 warships are stationed close to Iran, including two aircraft carrier groups. The USS Enterprise left Virginia last week for the Gulf. A Pentagon spokesman said it was to replace the USS Nimitz and there would be no overlap that would mean three aircraft carriers in Gulf at the same time.

No decision on military action is expected until next year. Meanwhile the State Department will pursue the diplomatic route.

Sporadic talks are under way between the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, on the possibility of a freeze in Iran's uranium enrichment program.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Mohamed ElBaradei has said that there are signs of Iran slowing down work on the enrichment plant it is building in Natanz. Negotiations took place in Tehran last week between Iranian officials and the IAEA, which one IAEA official said had produced "good results."

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