Biden: America cannot prevent Israeli strike on Iran

The United States would not take steps to hinder any Israeli military action against Iran, Vice President Biden said in an interview aired on ABC News Sunday.

"Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," Biden said. "Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed."

ADVERTISEMENT
Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology, which the Islamic regime says is not intended for the development of weapons, is one of the direst challenges facing U.S. policy in the Middle East. Israel views Iran's actions on the nuclear issue as a grave threat to its existence given Iran's staunchly anti-Israel position.

"We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country," Biden said. When asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether the United States would take active steps to obstruct an Israeli strike against Iran, Biden said, "I'm not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what's in our interests."

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that any attacks on Iran would destabilize the region."I have been for some time concerned about any strike on Iran. I worry about it being very destabilizing not just in and of itself but the unintended consequences of a strike like that," Mullen said on CBS News's "Face the Nation." "At the same time, I'm one that thinks Iran should not have nuclear weapons. I think that's very destabilizing."

But the position of the United States on Israel or any other nation attacking Iran is not a military matter, Mullen said. "These are really political decisions that have to be made with respect to where the United States is."

In a recent meeting with President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that the Jewish state would take no actions this year to give Obama time to reach out directly to Iran.

Though multilateral talks with Iran continue, Obama has offered to step up U.S. involvement by engaging directly with Iranian leaders, despite the fact that the two nations have not had diplomatic relations since the Islamic revolution in 1979 and deep tensions between Washington and Tehran. Biden reiterated the Obama administration's position on talks with Iran. " If the Iranians respond to the offer of engagement, we will engage," Biden said. "The offer's on the table."

In an interview broadcast in Iran Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he planned to request a public meeting with Obama, CNN reported. "I will go to the United Nations and will invite Obama to negotiations," Ahmadinejad said, according to the report. The meeting would have to be "in front of the international media, not a sit-down behind closed doors," he said.

The situation in Iran -- and the administration's stance toward opening up talks -- has been complicated by ongoing protests in the nation sparked by the disputed results of the recent presidential election. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared Ahmadinejad the winner over Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Violent protests and clashes with government security forces followed, triggering international condemnation.

Biden refused to criticize the outcome of the election in Iran, saying he did not want to play into the hands of the country's top rulers, who have accused America and Great Britain of meddling in internal Iranian politics.

"I think it's clear that the consequences of the way the election was conducted and the way that the election was declared -- who was declared the winner and how, is going to have a rippling effect," Biden said. "What that effect will be, I don't know. I think we have to wait to see how this settles out and -- before we can make a judgment."

"We have to acknowledge as a free and sovereign nation that we abhor the violence that took place. We think it was inappropriate, the way in which they treated those protesters," Biden continued. He defended the president's handling of the aftermath, calling it the "correct" approach.

-- Reid Wilson contributed to this article