Israel, U.S. "not discussing" military tack on Iran

JERUSALEM Thu Dec 31, 2009 9:29am EST

EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to film or take pictures in Tehran. People work in the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, about 1,215 km (755 miles) south of Tehran, November 30, 2009. REUTERS/Vladimir Soldatkin

EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to film or take pictures in Tehran. People work in the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, about 1,215 km (755 miles) south of Tehran, November 30, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Vladimir Soldatkin

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A U.S.-Israeli dialogue on Iran has not reached the point of discussing a military option to thwart its nuclear ambitions, focusing instead on sanctions in 2010, Israel's envoy to Washington said on Thursday.

At the close of a year in which U.S. President Barack Obama tried and failed to talk Iran into curbing uranium enrichment, a process with bomb-making potential, Ambassador Michael Oren said he saw no sign of the Americans relenting on that core demand.

"I'm very confident in America's commitment to dissuading Iran from enriching uranium on its soil, which is our common goal," Oren told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"Our positions on Iran completely dovetail and we have very close cooperation and communication."

The diplomatic stalemate has set off speculation that the Israelis, perhaps fearing a shift by Washington to a Cold War-style policy of containing a nuclear-armed Iran, would make good on veiled threats to hit their arch-foe preemptively.

Asked whether Israel is facing any U.S. pressure over the issue of possible military action, Oren said: "It's not a subject that comes up. It's not a subject of discussion. It's not a subject of conversation between us because we're not there yet. We're far away from that.

"Right now the main focus is on the formulation and the application of the sanctions. That's where we are."

Loath to countenance a new Middle East conflict, the Obama administration has been publicly circumspect about the military option.

DEFIANCE

Iran has defied several rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions and continued enriching uranium enrichment for what it describes as a peaceful nuclear project. Many experts doubt whether the United States and European powers could muster Russian and Chinese support for further Security Council action.

That would leave the option of lower-grade sanctions by Washington and its allies, albeit limited in economic impact.

A senior Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel would welcome such move by Obama, if only as a concrete sign of his willingness to move "from engagement to confrontation" with Iran.

Under Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, the United States last year turned down an Israeli purchase request for refueling planes and specialized "bunker-buster" bombs, in what was widely perceived as a warning not to try to take on Iran alone.

Asked if there had been similar refusals of strategic ordnance since he took office in June, Oren said: "Nothing, nothing. It is not a subject of discussion between the government of Israel and the Obama administration."

Israel is widely assumed to have the region's only atomic arsenal, designed for last-ditch self-defense. But some independent experts believe its conventional air force is too small to deliver lasting damage to Iran's nuclear facilities, which are distant, dispersed and fortified.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)