WASHINGTON — US military action against Iran has not been ruled out, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday, after a top official said such an option was off the table in the “near term.”
The Defense Department faced questions about US policy on Iran after Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, reportedly said during a visit to Singapore that a strike against Iran would be a “last resort.”
“It is not on the table in the near term,” Flournoy was quoted as saying.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said US strategy over Iran’s nuclear program remained unchanged, with Washington focused on diplomatic efforts to persuade Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment.
“I don’t think that’s anything new,” Morrell said of Flournoy’s remarks.
“It clearly is not our preference to go to war with Iran, to engage militarily with Iran.
“Nobody wishes to do that, but she also makes it clear it’s not off the table.”
He said the US preference for diplomacy over military action held true for the current administration as well as former president George W. Bush’s White House.
He acknowledged that nearly 200,000 troops deployed in countries bordering Iran — Afghanistan and Iraq — could face attacks from Tehran in the event of a possible US strike against Tehran.
“And we have troops in close proximity to Iran that are potentially targets of retaliation should action be taken,” he said.
Given Iran’s arsenal of short and medium-range missiles, the US military has missile defense systems in the region that “we think will protect our forces against such a threat,” he added.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top military officer Admiral Mike Mullen have warned of the limits and risks of any military action against Iran, saying it would likely only delay Tehran’s program by a few years.