U.S. Strike on Iran? White House Denies It

ByABC News via via logo

April 10, 2006— -- In the latest edition of The New Yorker magazine, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration is accelerating plans for military strikes against Iran to squash its nuclear program ambitions and that it is considering using nuclear weapons to take out the country's nuclear facilities.

Hersh said the administration had drawn up lists of targets and was considering using B-61 or bunker buster nuclear weapons against Iran. There are several plans on the table, Hersh said, including one with tactical nuclear weapons that would destroy Iran's nuclear facilities located 75 feet underground, about 170 miles or 180 miles from the capital of Tehran.

"This president has decided that the red line that Iran will not be able to cross is enriching uranium, and Iran said it is going to do that," Hersh said.

White House Counselor Dan Bartlett called Hersh's report ill-informed and told The Associated Press that the president's priority was "to find a diplomatic solution to a problem the entire world recognizes."

The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program. However, Iran has refused to halt its nuclear activity, saying its small-scale enrichment project is strictly for research and not for development of nuclear weapons.

Bush has referred to Iran as part of the "axis of evil." While he has stressed that diplomacy is always preferable, he has also defended his administration's strike-first policy against terrorists and other enemies.

Hersh, quoting anonymous sources, reported that there were already clandestine U.S. military teams on the ground in Iran and that some senior officials had said they would resign unless the president took the nuclear option off the table.

"It's out of the contingency plan stage. My people on the inside say they went on to operational planning," he told "Good Morning America."

Hersh said that the military had given the White House fixed plans to choose from, one being the nuclear bunker buster option. Later, he said, some military officials had second thoughts on the idea, but the White House refused to let go of the nuclear option -- and that has made some officials nervous.

Earlier this month, tensions with Iran increased when officials conducted two major new missile tests, which were seen as an attempt to deter the United States from taking military action. Last month, Iran warned in a statement that it could inflict "harm and pain" on the United States if military action was taken.

The Bush administration's hard-line message remained clear.

"We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech last month.

Hersh said that the administration had no plans of putting American troops on the ground in Iran.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- often criticized for returning his country to Islamic fundamentalism -- has been quoted saying that Israel should be "wiped off the map." Hersh reported that President Bush views Ahmadinejad as a "potential Hitler."

"This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war," Hersh quoted an unnamed senior Pentagon adviser.

"This is not really about the worry whether they enriched uranium. This is about this president and the vice president wanting regime change. They want [the Iranian government] those people out of there," Hersh said. "This president seems to believe it's his mission in life, his mantra. … It's Messianic."

Another official quoted in the article said that it was believed that no other president -- Democrat or Republican -- would have the courage to stand up to Iran the way Bush has.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the idea of a nuclear attack on Iran "completely nuts" in a BBC interview. Though Prime Minister Tony Blair is loyal to President Bush, no one is sure what would happen if Bush asked for his support of a nuclear attack on Iran.

"Nobody knows what Tony Blair will do if Bush asks him," Hersh said.

The administration's perception about Iran is quite similar to its thinking before invading Iraq, Hersh said. He quoted a former defense official as saying that the planning was based on the belief that the bombing would inspire the Iranian people to rise up against the regime.

Hersh said that belief showed that Bush and his administration were living in "La-La Land."

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