The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed that diplomatic means would garner a longer-term effect in reaching agreements with Iran, Mullen told reporters following remarks to students, veterans and faculty at Columbia University here.
“Military options have been on the table and remain on the table, but the engagements, the diplomatic, the sanctions, the finance; all of that needs to continue to lead the effort,” Mullen said.
The White House and Defense Department are confident in the U.S. military despite the past decade of stress on the force in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. But launching a military strike doesn’t mean Iran will stop its nuclear programs, he added.
“The [military] options would cause a delay, and that would be very clear, but that doesn’t mean the problem’s going to go away, and it could be a continuing problem,” he said. “Iran’s capability to defend its nuclear program and its military all would have to be taken into consideration.”
Mullen said a military strike on Iran would be the last option for the United States. Letting Iran obtain nuclear weapons as well as engaging the Islamic state in military action are both conclusions U.S. officials want to avoid.
“From my perspective that’s the last option,” he said. “… because both outcomes, having weapons and striking, have unintended consequences that are difficult to predict.”
The admiral said developing policy and trying to determine solutions for Iranian nuclear proliferation has been among the White House and Defense Department’s top three priorities for years.
One of Mullen’s personal priorities since becoming chairman is the broader Middle East, trying to focus efforts, because he believes it is the most unstable and potentially destabilizing part of the world. In order to bring peace and provide a better future for the next generation, security there must be established, he said.
“I worry about Iran achieving nuclear capabilities,” he said. “Dealing with it has unintended consequences that I don’t think we’ve all thought through. I know that other countries in the region will seek nuclear weapons as well, and that spiral heading in that direction is a very bad outcome. The diplomatic, the engagement piece, the sanction piece needs to be addressed to possibly have Iran change its mind about where it’s headed.”
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