While meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta repeated several times that "all options," including military force, remain on the table when it comes to confronting Iran over its nuclear enrichment program.
During a tour of an "Iron Dome" missile system in Ashkelon with Barak, Panetta said that the Obama administration would continue to pursue a regime of economic sanctions against Iran, and said that the country "must accept limits" on its nuclear program or risk military action.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration proposed new sanctions on Iran. The announced sanctions will target Iran's energy sector and aim to thwart its ability to access international financial markets.
The announcement follows directly on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's recent trip to Israel and amid Republican criticism that the president is not "tough enough" when it comes to dealing with Iran.
The Romney campaign clarified their candidate's position following comments made by surrogates that some thought betrayed standing US policy, saying: "Gov. Romney believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. Gov. Romney recognizes Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it."
Commenting at CNN, Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy, writes, "If that sounds an awful lot like Barack Obama's position, it's because it is Obama's position."
“Romney likes to sound tougher on Iran, but when you really delve into the specifics, there’s not a lot of difference there from what the administration has done or is already doing,” said Colin H. Kahl, a former Pentagon official who is an adviser to the Obama campaign, to the New York Times. “A lot of this is Romney describing our current policy and masquerading it as criticism of the president.”
Barak, speaking on behalf of the Israeli government and standing next to Panetta, said he sees an "extremely low" probability that even newly proposed US sanctions will compel Iran to give up its nuclear activities. Ultimately, Barak said, Israel reserved the right to take action into its own hands and stressed that the Israeli government alone would decide its security issues.
Panetta said the US respects Israel's right to defend itself. "The U.S. respects Israel's sovereignty and independence and their efforts to decide what's in their best interest in the region," he said.
Following a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Panetta released a statement, which read: “We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Period." And added: "We will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.”
Iran has consistently denied it is operating a nuclear weapons program, though it affirms its right, as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enrich uranium for energy production, research and medical purposes. Despite repeated public proclamations, neither the US, Israel, or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have presented significant evidence to contradict those claims.
Israel has not signed the NPT and refuses to acknowledge its own nuclear arsenal, widely believed to contain approximately 200 nuclear warheads.
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