DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott. There are reports this weekend that the Bush administration is giving serious consideration to a military strike against Iran. The White House has said it prefers a diplomatic solution to get Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions but President Bush has been clear: He will rule out no option, including force.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally, Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace. It's a threat in essence to a strong alliance. I made it clear and I'll make it clear again that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel.
ELLIOTT: That was President Bush in Cleveland last month. In this week's New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh cites unnamed officials who say Washington has stepped up planning for attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. And the Washington Post reports today that Pentagon and CIA planners are exploring possible targets. One man in Washington who has been tracking the Iran nuclear issue is Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thanks for being with us.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Thank you for having me.
ELLIOTT: Now, you've been hearing rumblings about this for several weeks now but you write that you found it hard to believe.
Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, I've been saying for months that no serious consideration was being given by senior officials to these strikes, but I changed my mind in the last few weeks as friends came to me with stories of planning in the Pentagon and conversations in the Vice President's office. And then I started to hear statements coming out from senior administration officials, and it was those statements themselves that convinced me.
ELLIOTT: Now, can you take me through some of those statements? I mean what you were hearing?
Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, we heard the Vice President of the United States give a major address focused on Iran. We hear the Secretary of State say that the problem with Iran goes beyond the nuclear issue, that it's the regime itself that's a threat to the Middle East. The Secretary of Defense links Iran to the global struggle against terrorism. Even vague references to 9/ll, calling it the chief sponsor of terrorism. The President of the United States blames Iran for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. And then we have a new national security doctrine that comes out that once again talks about preemptive war and labels Iran as the main threat to U.S. interests.
ELLIOTT: Now, what makes you believe that this is a lead up to war instead of say just tough talk?
Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, it looks like the same kind of coordinated campaign that the administration waged before the war in Iraq. It looks like they thought that playbook worked and they're going back to it again, and once again you're seeing the threat inflated, talk about a danger that is near, that's intolerable, and the risks of military strikes being downplayed.
ELLIOTT: What is the threat of Iran having a nuclear weapon?
Mr. CIRINCIONE: Well, Iran is a good five to ten years away from having a nuclear bomb, that according to independent analysis and the national intelligence estimate of the United States, as reported back in August of 2005 by the Washington Post. But some believe that the threat is closer.
ELLIOTT: Now, couldn't this just be a bluff? I mean you've got a diplomatic effort going on right now to try to sanction this country for its nuclear program and some countries, China and Russia, have been reluctant to do that. Could this be the way that the U.S. is trying to put pressure on this country, on those countries?
Mr. CIRINCIONE: It's possible, but there is no indication that this administration wants to cut a deal with the regime in Iran. They see the regime itself as the problem. The administration wants to fundamentally transform the Iranian nation from one headed by a theocracy to one which they hope would be headed by a pro-Western democratic government. That's their goal. The nuclear program is secondary.
ELLIOTT: How can the U.S. decide whether a military strike is necessary in the coming months?
Mr. CIRINCIONE: The key is the threat assessment. How close is Iran really? Let's declassify the national intelligence estimate. Let's get all the information on the table and not use this as a political football where the Democrats try to get the right of the administration or the Republicans try to unleash a national estimate on the eve of a vote authorizing the use of force. Let's learn from the mistakes of Iraq and get all the facts on the table so we can make as a country an intelligent decision this time.
ELLIOTT: Joseph Cirincione is Director for Nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thank you for coming in.
Mr. CIRINCIONE: Thank you for having me.
ELLIOTT: In response to recent reports, the White House told the AP the US is conducting normal defense and intelligence planning as the president seeks a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear stand-off.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.