Thursday, September 18, 2008

Study group questions military action against Iran

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By BARRY SCHWEID- AP Diplomatic Writer

The next president would be wise to make contingency plans for a military attack against Iran, but even a successful strike might not stop Tehran's development of nuclear weapons, a bipartisan study group has concluded.

Intensified diplomacy and tougher economic sanctions aimed at Iran's oil and gas industries are more likely to be productive, said the forthcoming report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, prepared under the guidance of former Sens. Daniel Coats, R-Ind., and Charles Robb, D-Va.

"A military strike is a feasible option and must remain a last resort to retard Iran's nuclear development," the report said.

The next president could conclude that the risks of a military strike are outweighed by the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran dominating the Persian Gulf and Iran possibly acting to eradicate Israel, the report said.

The U.S. military is capable of launching a devastating strike on Iran's nuclear and military infrastructure, probably a more decisive one than the Iranian leadership realizes, the study group said.

And it could set back significantly Iran's nuclear program, the report said.

"However, unless sustained by repeated strikes against rebuilt or newly discovered sites over a period of years, military action alone is likely only to delay Iranian nuclear development while entailing risks of retaliation ... which could quickly escalate to full-scale war."

Any U.S. military strike also would run a number of risks, among them rallying Iranians around their "unstable and ideologically extreme regime" and triggering widescale Hezbollah and Hamas rocket attacks against Israel, the report said.

While a successful bombing campaign would slow Iranian nuclear development, Iran would retain its nuclear knowhow. The United States would have to be prepared to attack previously undiscovered nuclear sites to ensure Iran does not resurrect its military nuclead program, the report said.

Iran's nuclear development may pose the most significant strategic threat to the United States during the next administration, threatening the Persian Gulf region and its vast energy resources, spark nuclear proliferation through the Middle East and destabilize Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region, the report said.

The Bush administration has kept the military option on the table while saying it would talk to Iran under certain conditions.

Republican candidate John McCain's approach is similar. He emphasizes retaining the military option. Democratic candidate Barack Obama would consider unconditional talks with Iran. He has not ruled out a military option.

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