Iran now top threat to U.S. says military official

WASHINGTON Fri Nov 4, 2011 4:04pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran is the biggest threat to the United States and its allies in the Middle East, surpassing al Qaeda, which is down but not out, a senior military official said on Friday.

"The biggest threat to the United States and to our interests and to our friends, I might add, has come into focus and it's Iran," said the official, addressing a forum in Washington.

Next week, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, is expected to release a report that includes evidence of Iranian nuclear research which makes little sense if not weapons related, Western diplomats said.

However, the official said he did not believe Iran wanted to provoke a conflict and added he did not know if the Islamic state had decided to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is enriching uranium to power reactors for electricity generation.

"I don't know that the Iranians have made the decision to make a nuclear weapon," the official said.

Reporters were allowed to cover the event on condition that the senior military official not be identified.

"Al Qaeda is not out, but it's down," the official said. He added that al Qaeda had also been largely marginalized by Arab Spring uprisings that have shown change is possible without resorting to the group's "medieval practices."

The United States, the European Union and others have imposed numerous rounds of economic sanctions on Tehran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program.

'UNPRECEDENTED PRESSURE'

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday said he agreed on the need to keep "unprecedented pressure" on Iran. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday stricter sanctions were the key to reining in Iran's nuclear program.

But it is far from clear whether China and Russia, members of the U.N. Security Council, would agree to significantly tighten trade and financial sanctions on Tehran.

At the Pentagon, spokesman George Little said the United States remained focused on leveraging diplomatic and economic pressure against Iran.

"We remain very concerned about their intentions with respect to their nuclear program," Little told reporters.

"But in terms of the instruments of national power that we're currently employing, the focus is on diplomatic and economic," Little said.

Last month the United States accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, an allegation Tehran denied.

There has been a surge of speculation in Israeli media this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to secure Cabinet consensus for an attack on Iranian nuclear installations.

Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 and launched a similar sortie against Syria in 2007, precedents lending weight to its veiled threats to take similar action on Iran if foreign pressure fails to curb its nuclear program.

Iran has warned that it will respond to any attacks by hitting Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf. Analysts say Tehran could retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway where about 40 percent of all traded oil passes.

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (17)
ONTIME wrote:
As long as you have your eye on Iran, you best take a look at your backside and eyeball Red China and the Russkies, they both do a lot of biz with Iran….

Nov 04, 2011 12:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bettertry wrote:
Failure to name the source of the comment is troubling to me. My expectations of Reuters is the absolute highest degree of reporting integrity and identification of sources are essential.

Nov 04, 2011 12:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Ralphooo wrote:
I am quaking in fear that Iran is coming over here to take our stuff and make us do things we don’t like. Of course first they will shoot down all our airplanes and satellites, then sink our ships and blow up all those missile silos out in Kansas and Michigan.

I’m pretty sure they will take all the presents we have ready for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza, and give them to their own kids for Ramadan. They might even close down MacDonalds and Burger King. Who knows what these fiends are planning?

Nov 04, 2011 1:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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