Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned top White House officials in a secret three-page document that the U.S. does not have an effective strategy for dealing with Iran's push toward nuclear capability, according to a published report.
U.S. officials told The New York Times the classified memo, written to Gen. James Jones, national security adviser to President Barack Obama, sparked a renewed effort inside the White House and Pentagon to develop new options for Obama — including military alternatives, should sanctions fail to force Iran to reverse course.
In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a "virtual" nuclear weapons state, the newspaper said, citing U.S. officials familiar with the document.
Among his concerns, Gates included the lack of a response should Iran choose the course that many officials and analysts consider likely — assembling all the major parts needed for a nuclear weapon, such as fuel, designs and detonators, but stopping just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
Officials familiar with the memo's contents described only portions dealing with strategy and policy and not sections that apparently dealt with secret operations against Iran, or how to deal with Persian Gulf allies, The Times said.
One senior official described the document as "a wake-up call," the newspaper said, adding that White House officials disputed that view and insisted that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran's nuclear program.
The Times said Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell declined comment on specifics in the document but issued a statement on Saturday saying, "The secretary believes the president and his national security team have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort considering and preparing for the full range of contingencies with respect to Iran."
A senior administration official told The Times there was a line Iran would not be permitted to cross.
The official said the United States would ensure that Iran would not "acquire a nuclear capability," a step Tehran could get to well before it developed a sophisticated weapon.
Jones told The Times on Friday that the Obama administration did have a strategy on Iran.
"The fact that we don't announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn't mean we don't have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies," he said. "We do."
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