Panetta: US military option against Iran is ready

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (Flash90)

WASHINGTON (JWN and agencies)—US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reiterated on Sunday that the military option is available and ready to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Panetta said in an interview with ABC News’ This Week that both the United States and the rest of the civilized world is determined not to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. “The fundamental premise is that neither the United States nor the international community is going to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said. “We will do everything we can to prevent them from developing a weapon.”

Panetta referred to remarks made earlier this month by US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro acknowledging that Washington has prepared a military contingency plan, should diplomacy and sanctions fail to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

“It would be preferable to solve this diplomatically and through the use of pressure, than to use military force,” Panetta said. “But that doesn’t mean that option isn’t fully available. Not just available, it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.

“The international community has been unified,” he said. “We’ve put very tough sanctions on them as a result of that… We are prepared for any sort of contingency in that part of the world.”

Panetta met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon earlier this month to coordinate strategy with the US ahead of the second round of talks between Western powers and Iran in Baghdad last week.

A senior US official was quoted on Saturday by Israel Radio as saying that the US is planning to ratchet up sanctions on Iran until it stops enriching uranium. The official said the United States and Israel are on the same page and that “there are no gaps in terms of handling the Iranian nuclear issue.”

The official said it is still impossible to determine whether Iran is committed to a diplomatic agreement with the West or whether Tehran is stalling for time as it races to develop a nuclear bomb.

“The United States regards a nuclear Iran not only as a threat to Israel, but to world peace,” he said. “Even if we do not have the patience, we need to give diplomacy a chance before military action,” the official added. ”It is still not too late, and I think that Israel thinks that it is already too late,”

“Israel’s concern that time is running out is justified,” the official said. ”We doubt whether an agreement with Iran is possible but we must exhaust the diplomatic path; the alternative, a nuclear Iran or regional war, is very serious.”

“The entire Western world, including China and Russia, is united against Iran and thinks that the sanctions are effective and that we should adhere to them,” he added.