Reports: U.S. Military Plans for Strike Against Iran

The Washington Post is one news organization reporting that the Bush Administration is studying options for military strikes against Iran. The attacks would be part of a broader strategy to try to pressure Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear development program. Renee Montagne talks to Post reporter Dafna Linzer.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The Bush administration is playing down news reports published over the weekend that it's considering air strikes against Iran if the government in Tehran does not abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Reports in the Washington Post and the New Yorker magazine mention stepped up planning for a possible bombing campaign. The New Yorker reports that one option is a nuclear strike on Iran's nuclear facility. But an administration official said the first priority of President Bush is to find a diplomatic solution, describing as ill-informed those that are suggesting a military option. Dafna Linzer is the national security correspondent for the Washington Post and co-author of one of the reports. Good morning.

Ms. DAFNA LINZER (National Security Correspondent, Washington Post): Good morning, Rene.

MONTAGNE: Break down for us what the different options are that are being considered by the Administration.

Ms. LINZER: You know, the Pentagon is doing some of its own planning, as is the CIA and other intelligence services here at home. Most of the options focus on what planners would call limited air strikes against nuclear facilities in Iran. These are suspected facilities that could be used for a bombing program, for a nuclear program on behalf of the Iranians. The Iranians say it's part of their energy program, but they would be among the top sites.

MONTAGNE: And what in these, in this thinking, is considered to be important enough to trigger a military strike?

Ms. LINZER: That's a really good question. We're not sure and there's no indication from our reporting that such a decision has been made. But there certainly is enough planning in case the president sees the diplomatic process of the U.N. is not working to get the Iranians to at least roll back some of their nuclear program, as it is now.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the pros and cons of military action, especially with the U.S. military stretched by Iraq and Afghanistan. For one thing, is it even do-able?

Ms. LINZER: That's being hotly debated inside the Pentagon and among strategists and policymakers. Some believe that bombing around nuclear facilities would only slow the program, it wouldn't stop it and the Iranians would be forced to rebuild quite quickly and possibly even push their nuclear program further underground, making it harder to strike at again.

Others believe that it could buy enough time to make a difference or could force the Iranians to reconsider rebuilding. But most planners seems to believe a strike against Iran would basically be an act of war, that the Iranians would come back, would respond with equal strength, either against U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq or through acts of terrorism.

MONTAGNE: So this consideration of military strikes generally in Iran, is it possible it's just bluster or some sort of psychological campaign, that's why it's coming out now?

Ms. LINZER: I think there's a lot of that, too. A couple people have told us that they thought that much of the conversation now in Washington, where people are now speaking publicly about the possibility of such an air campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities is saber-rattling and a lot of bluster and hopefully to make the Iranians nervous and make other countries in the U.N. Security Council nervous enough to want to try and solve this quickly and diplomatically.

MONTAGNE: And finally, what role are other countries playing in all of this, especially Israel, which launched an air strike against a suspected Iraqi nuclear facility 25 years ago?

Ms. LINZER: I think that there's pressure from the Israelis who are so closely situated to Iran, though not close enough to carry out the kind of strike that they carried against Iraq's nuclear facility in 1981. But they are pressuring the United States and others in the Security Council to try and come up with some solution that would alleviate Israeli fears about an Iranian program. Our understanding is that Britain is not considering joining the United States in such a strike.

And in fact, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday called reports about a U.S. strike against Iran with any kind of nuclear arsenal completely nuts, I think is what he said.

MONTAGNE: Dafna Linzer is the national security correspondent for the Washington Post. Thanks very much.

Ms. LINZER: Thank you, Renee.

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