The United States has plans in place to attack Iran if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, Washington's ambassador to Israel said, days ahead of a crucial round of talks with Tehran about its disputed nuclear program.
Daniel B. Shapiro's message resonated Thursday far beyond the closed forum in which it was made: Iran should not test Washington's resolve to act on its promise to strike if diplomacy and sanctions fail to pressure Tehran to abandon the nuclear program.
Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association that the United States hopes it will not have to resort to military force.
"But that doesn't mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it's ready," he said. "The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it's ready."
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as energy production. The United States and Israel suspect that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but differences have emerged in how to persuade Tehran to curb its program.
The United States says diplomacy and economic sanctions must be given a chance to run their course and is taking the lead in the continuing talks between six global powers and Iran.
Israel, while saying that it would prefer a diplomatic solution, has expressed skepticism about these talks and says time is running out for military action to be effective.
President Obama has assured Israel that the United States is prepared to take military action if necessary, and it is standard procedure for the military to draw up plans for a broad range of possible scenarios. But Shapiro's comments were the most explicit sign yet that preparations have been stepped up.
In his speech, Shapiro acknowledged that the clock is ticking. "We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time," he said. "But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work."
Shapiro spoke Tuesday, and the Associated Press obtained a recording of his remarks Thursday.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany are gearing up for a May 23 meeting with Iran in Baghdad. Shortly after the meeting, the U.N. atomic agency is to release its latest report card on Iran's nuclear efforts.
In Tehran on Thursday, top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili warned against Western pressure at next week's talks, which are a follow-up to negotiations in Istanbul last month that all sides praised as positive.
"Cooperation is what we can talk about in Baghdad," Jalili said. "Some say time is running out for the talks," he added. "I say time for the [West's] pressure strategy is running out."
The United States has urged Israel to refrain from attacking, at least at this point. Tough new economic sanctions are to go into effect over the summer.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues the negotiations will fail unless Iran agrees to halt all uranium enrichment, ship its current stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country and dismantle an underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom.
Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, who until a few days ago commanded Israel's air force, said in a Jerusalem Post interview Thursday that the air force is prepared for any scenario, including striking Iranian nuclear facilities.