If all else fails, US will hit Iran in 2013, say former top advisers to Obama and Bush

At Washington Institute gala, Dennis Ross, Elliott Abrams and outgoing US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey insist the president will strike next year if diplomacy doesn’t succeed

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

US President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland last month (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland last month (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

NEW YORK — If the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program is not resolved diplomatically in the coming year, it will be resolved militarily by the end of 2013, two top US foreign policy officials told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

“I think there’s the stomach in this administration, and this president, that if diplomacy fails [to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons] — to use force,” according to Dennis Ross, a former Mideast envoy during the Clinton administration, and until November 2011 President Obama’s top advisor and planner on Iran in the National Security Council.

James Jeffrey, a former deputy national security advisor and, for the past two years, the US ambassador to Iraq, agreed with Ross’ assessment.

“I think [Obama’s] first choice will be a negotiated settlement. Failing that, I think that we’re going to strike,” Jeffrey said.

“One way or the other, these guys [the Iranian regime] are either going to stop their program or, before we’re halfway through 2013, they’re going to have enough [enriched nuclear materiel] to go critical in a few weeks,” he added. “I think if we don’t get a negotiated settlement, and these guys are actually on the threshold [of weaponization capability], as Obama said during the campaign, then the president is going to take military action.”

The two officials spoke with The Times of Israel at the gala dinner of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, held Thursday night at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The event honored Ross and Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security advisor to George W. Bush. Jeffrey, who was in attendance, recently joined the institute as a visiting fellow.

During an on-stage discussion with Ross and Abrams halfway through the evening, Washington Institute director Robert Satloff asked the former officials, “Will either America or Israel employ preventive military action against Iran’s nuclear program – yes or no?”

The two replied in unison, “yes.”

“Will this happen in 2013?” Satloff pressed.

“Yes,” said Ross.

“Yes, I agree,” added Abrams.

Obama’s “preference is to have diplomacy succeed,” Ross clarified to The Times of Israel after the panel discussion. But, he added, Obama is able and willing to carry out a military strike.

“If [Obama’s] position was going to be not to use force, he would have accepted the objective of containment [of a nuclear Iran]. He did not. He adopted the objective of prevention. That doesn’t mean you want force to be the case. What it means is, fundamentally, that if diplomacy doesn’t succeed you’re prepared to do it. And I believe he is.”

Asked if the Obama administration had an interest in pressing for a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, Ross suggested the US had a more limited view of its role than in the past.

“I don’t think it’s the president’s view that somehow the United States can wave a magic wand and you can have peace,” he said. “If you go back to an interview he gave at the end of the first year [of Obama’s first term], he said [bringing the sides together to discuss peace] has proven more difficult than he hoped it would be.”

He insisted that “It’s very important to try to preserve a two-state outcome,” and that “I don’t think the administration will walk away, and I don’t think we should walk away. If you can create a set of circumstances where it looks like there’s an opportunity, I think the administration would make a major effort. But to assume the administration will make a major effort as if there’s an opening [when there isn’t one,] that remains to be seen.”

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