Two former CIA directors and a handful of former senior US officials urged President Joe Biden to “restore Iran’s fear that its current nuclear path will trigger the use of force,” in a letter published Friday.
“Diplomacy appears to be moving backward,” the letter read on the same day that European capitals voiced frustration with Tehran’s request to adjourn talks on the now-defunct 2015 nuclear deal.
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While voicing their support for the Biden administration’s preference of using diplomacy to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains for civilian purposes, the former US officials said the challenge of preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear had reached a “critical moment.”
“Therefore, for the sake of our diplomatic effort to resolve this crisis, we believe it is vital to restore Iran’s fear that its current nuclear path will trigger the use of force against it by the United States,” the letter signed by Leon Panetta and David Petraeus read.
Panetta was the former defense secretary and former CIA director while Petraeus was the former chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and a former CIA director.
Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, a top official in the Obama administration, also endorsed the letter as did former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman.
Talks reached an impasse on Friday after Iran stalled the ongoing discussions in Vienna for months after they elected a new president.
Iran’s new hardline government is demanding the lifting of all sanctions before it comes back into compliance with the deal the Biden administration is hoping to re-enter, otherwise known as the JCPOA.
US Special Envoy for Iran, leading the delegation in Vienna, is returning to Washington in a sign that talks will not resume in the days ahead.
While Biden and his team have repeatedly said the time for talks is not open-ended, they have been forced to wait for nearly one year as Iran continues to ramp up its nuclear program, which it claims is for non-military use.
Friday’s letter to the White House said the challenge was now how to restore US credibility in the eyes of Iranian leaders. “Words—including formulations that are more pointed and direct than ‘all options are on the table’—are also necessary but not sufficient,” the letter read.
Washington has said that they are preparing for life without a deal and said they were studying options in the event that no deal is reached.
However, critics believe Iran is now just months away from having the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.
“In that context, we believe it is important for the Biden administration to take steps that lead Iran to believe that persisting in its current behavior and rejecting a reasonable diplomatic resolution will put to risk its entire nuclear infrastructure, one built painstakingly over the last three decades,” the former US officials said.
Steps could include military exercises by the US military, along with its allies, “including rehearsing air-to-ground attacks on hardened targets and the suppression of Iranian missile batteries.”
The group of former officials also called for providing US allies with “enhanced defensive capabilities” to counter retaliatory strikes by Iran.
“Without convincing Iran it will suffer severe consequences if it stays on its current path, there is little reason to hope for the success of diplomacy,” they said.
But the group said it should be made clear that they were not advocating for regime change under the cover of non-proliferation. “This is not about hostility toward Iran or its people,” they said, calling on Washington to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical aid to the Iranian people regardless of the diplomatic impasse.
“But it is essential to break that impasse and stop the dangerous advance of the Iranian nuclear program.”