Gates warns Obama US lacks Iran policy in secret 'wake-up call' memo
Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief, has warned President Barack Obama in a secret "wake-up call" memo that the White House has no effective policy for dealing with a nuclear Iran.
By Toby Harnden in Washington Telegraph
Published: 12:00AM BST 19 Apr 2010
In the memo, Mr Gates outlined a scenario - viewed in Washington as increasingly likely - in which Iran would gather all the major parts required to build a nuclear weapon but stop just short of actually assembling them to make a fully operational bomb.
This would mean that Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty [NPT] while becoming what is sometimes referred to as a "virtual" nuclear weapons state.
Since the three-page memo, written in January, a series of new options have been developed for Mr Obama, including military means for dealing with Tehran if it should acquire a nuclear weapon, the New York Times reported.
According to the newspaper, one senior official described the memo as "a wake-up call" and urged the White House to ponder about how the US could contain Iran if it decided to produce a weapon and how to deal with the possibility that nuclear fuel or weapons could be obtained by a terrorist group supported by Tehran.
Mr Gates, a Republican who was appointed by President George W. Bush but kept on by Mr Obama, is viewed as one of the more hawkish members of the Obama administration.
Senator John McCain, the defeated 2008 Republican presidential candidate and a senator from Arizona, said tough and meaningful sanctions against Iran were needed immediately.
"We have to be willing to pull the trigger on significant sanctions," he told Fox News on Sunday. "And then we have to make plans for whatever contingencies follow if those sanctions are not effective."
The White House vigorously denied that the memo had forced a change in the administration's thinking. "It is absolutely false that any memo touched off a reassessment of our options," said Ben Rhodes, a National Security Council spokesman.
"This administration has been planning for all contingencies regarding Iran for many months."
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said that Mr Gates believed "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".
Mr Gates's memo followed the expiration of a deadline of the end of 2009 set by Mr Obama for Iran to respond to an offer of dialogue to resolve concerns about Iran's accelerated nuclear programme.
Tehran spurned the offer and since then the Obama administration has pursued what it calls the "pressure track" - stepped-up military activity close to Iran and a fresh push for a more international sanctions to squeeze Iran economically.
Four senior Obama administration officials told Congress last week that Iran could be a year away from being able to build a nuclear bomb, but that it would take two to five more years to turn it into an effective weapon that could be launched against an enemy.
Iran has maintained that its nuclear programme is intended for energy production and not weapon-building.
"All we really know is that Iran is widening and deepening its nuclear weapons capabilities," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
"We don't have any insight into what they're thinking about doing - whether they'll just live with a nuclear weapons capability which will probably include learning more about nuclear weapons themselves, or they'll actually build them."