Senators pledge to back Obama if he attacks Iran to halt nuclear program

A group of bipartisan senators said Thursday it would stand by President Obama if he decided to attack Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The lawmakers, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), introduced a resolution with 32 co-sponsors that said nuclear containment is not a viable strategy with Iran, and called on the United States to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

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The senators said that they weren’t advocating an attack on Iran, and wanted a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. But they still made clear that a military option must be available if Iran does not abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Lieberman said the resolution sent a message “clearly and resolutely to Iran, you have only two choices: peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear weapons program or expect a military strike to disable that program.”

Graham said that the resolution “is not an authorization to use military force,” but added that the situation in Iran must be dealt with quickly.

“If military force is the option to be chosen, that is a debate for another day, that is another discussion,” Graham said. “To the Iranian regime, your efforts yesterday to show to the world how far you’ve gone, and how capable you are, is not going to deter us from saying no to your ambitions.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday touted new advancements to Iran’s nuclear program, at the same time the country said it was open to resuming nuclear talks with the United States and five other nations.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at a Senate hearing Thursday that Iran is prepared to retaliate against the United States and its allies in the Middle East if it is attacked, but is unlikely to do so if not provoked.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that “the intelligence does not show that they've made the decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon.”

Obama has said that no option is off the table when it comes to stopping Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons, including military ones, but that he would prefer a diplomatic solution.

The senators said that sanctions the United States and European Union had issued against Iran are having an impact, as Iran threatened Wednesday to cut off oil to six European countries.

Senators repeatedly referenced the unanimous vote in the Senate last year that put the sanctions in place.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) compared the Iran situation with the Cuban Missile Crisis “in historic and strategic importance.”

“It is unfolding more slowly, perhaps in greater complexity, but the sense of urgency is absolutely there,” Blumenthal said. “There still is time to avoid military action, just as there was in the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Graham said he was confident the Israelis know the United States is committed to tough sanctions. Panetta was cited last week as believing there was a strong likelihood Israel would strike Iran in the spring to stop its nuclear program.