Panetta warns US is ‘fully prepared’ to deal with Iran militarily if necessary

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday that the United States is “fully prepared” to respond militarily to Iran if necessary.

The United States is not taking any special steps to deal with the potential for conflict with Iran, as the Pentagon is already prepared for such a scenario, Panetta said speaking to reporters at the Pentagon.

Panetta reiterated that the United States still wants to find a peaceful resolution with Iran over its nuclear program and threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key Persian Gulf oil shipment line.

“It’s always an option to try to be able to pursue diplomacy, making very clear that in order for that to work it takes two to be able to engage,” Panetta said.

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An Iranian lawmaker claimed Wednesday that President Obama called for direct talks with Iran in a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, but an administration official said that was not the case.

Panetta wouldn’t comment specifically on the letter, but said that “we have channels to deal with the Iranians, and we continue to use them.”

Tensions between Iran and the United States have risen considerably in the past month after Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, and the United States said it would stop any attempt to close it. The threat was made in response to economic sanctions from the United States and Europe over Iran’s nuclear program, which Iran claims is for energy purposes but the United States and its allies say is for a nuclear weapon.

Experts say Iran would be committing economic suicide if it actually tried to close the strait, as Iran’s economy depends on its oil exports. But should Iran take that step, Panetta said Wednesday: “We’ll also be prepared to respond militarily if we have to.”