Ex-CIA chief says clash with Iran more likely

Associated Press / July 26, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Former CIA director Michael Hayden says military action against Iran now seems more likely because no matter what the United States does diplomatically, Tehran keeps pushing ahead with its suspected nuclear program.

Hayden, a CIA chief under President George W. Bush, said that during his tenure a strike was “way down the list’’ of options. But he said on CNN’s “State of the Union’’ that such action now “seems inexorable.’’

“We engage. They continue to move forward,’’ Hayden said. ‘We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.’’

He predicted that Iran will develop its program to the point where it is just below having an actual weapon.

“Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community,’’ Hayden said. “And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.’’

US officials have said military action remains an option if sanctions fail to deter Iran.

The UN Security Council has passed four sets of sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, on suspicions that it is being used to produce weapons. Iran denies the accusations, saying its program is geared merely toward generating electricity and other peaceful purposes.

Russia, which has shown increasing frustration with Iran on the issue, backed the latest UN sanctions last month. In the past, Iran had depended on allies Russia and China — and their veto power at the Security Council — to block tough penalties.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accused Russia’s president last week of turning against Tehran and joining the United States in spreading lies about its nuclear program, in the latest sign that Iran is drifting apart from a onetime key backer.

Ahmadinejad said Dmitry Medvedev entered a “propaganda drama’’ directed by Washington by saying earlier this month that Iran was getting closer to being able to develop nuclear weapons.

The new UN sanctions responded to Iran’s refusal to stop parts of its nuclear program. In the past, Iran had depended on allies Russia and China — and their veto power at the Security Council — to block tough penalties.

“Russia is a great nation and we are interested in continuing friendship between the two nations but his [Medvedev’s] remarks are part of a propaganda drama that is to be carried out by the US president against the Iranian nation,’’ Ahmadinejad said in a speech posted on his website Friday.

Russia is in a difficult position in the international standoff with Iran, in part because it does not want to jeopardize decades of political and trade ties with the country.

Medvedev said last week that although Iran is “an active and trusted trading partner . . . this does not mean we don’t care how it develops its nuclear program and what its military components look like. In this respect we expect explanations from Iran.’’

He also urged Iran to find the courage to cooperate with the international community over its disputed nuclear program.