Lawmakers Push for More Action on Iranian Nuclear Standoff

By BRIAN KNOWLTON

International Herald Tribune

January 22, 2006

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 - As the Bush administration and its European allies pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff, some top lawmakers from both parties pressed for a more vigorous approach today, including the option of military action.

"There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option," Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, "and that is Iran having nuclear weapons."

Mr. McCain, speaking on the Fox News Channel, added that concerns about Iran, along with what he termed the "wackos" in Venezuela - where President Hugo Chavez is one of the Bush administration's most ardent critics -- underscored the need for greater American energy independence.

Lawmakers on the Sunday morning talk shows also offered varying views of the meaning of the latest audiotape from Osama bin Laden. Some said it should raise serious concerns for a new attack on American soil, while others saw it as a sign that an increasingly isolated and possibly physically weakened Qaeda leader was struggling to remain relevant.

Senator McCain' call for an accelerated approach on Iran was echoed by a senior Democrat, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who was the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000.

"It's good that we're working with Britain, France and Germany," Senator Lieberman said, listing the European nations that have led American-backed negotiations with Iran, "but their pace is too slow." He called for the matter to be referred immediately to the United Nations Security Council, not first sent back to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Senator Lieberman, who is considered a hawk on military matters, said not only that the United States should keep the military option alive but that it also had the military capability to continue fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq while launching a complex air attack on scores of Iranian nuclear targets.

"We've got to be prepared to take military action," Mr. Lieberman, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee member, said on CBS.

Both parties are internally divided on Iran. After the enormous controversy over what critics said was the Bush administration's failure to secure adequate international backing before invading Iraq, some Republicans and Democrats now accuse it of relying too heavily on diplomacy.

Senator Hillary Clinton, Democrat of New York, asserted last week that the administration was "downplaying" the Iranian threat. Her fellow New York Democrat, Senator Charles Schumer, has called for heavy pressure on China and Russia, which are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to drop their reluctance to imposing economic sanctions on Tehran.

Reflecting the split among Republicans, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said today that talk of the military option was premature.

"I would never rule that out," he said on CBS, "but at this particular time, I just do not think that is any kind of an alternative."

Of Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Roberts said, "I don't think he's quite as relevant as he used to be." The tape, he said, "may be an effort for him to say, Hey, I'm still around." Still, he added, Mr. bin Laden's threats to strike the United States again should be taken seriously.

Senator Lieberman, noting that the Qaeda leadership had suffered a series of losses - including, it is thought, some prominent members killed in a Jan. 13 American airstrike in a Pakistani village - said, "I wonder whether he's now beginning to feel closed-in on."

But Representative Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC that she found the tape "quite scary" and noted that security had been stepped up at Los Angeles International Airport. She called on the Bush administration to consider raising the terror alert level.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of Pakistan, who is in the United States for meetings with administration officials, insisted today that his government had not been warned - as he said it should have been -- of the Jan. 13 attack by what is thought to have been missiles launched by drone aircraft controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency.

"We had no idea that this would take place," he said on CNN. Mr. Aziz added that none of the bodies pulled from the ruins in the village had been proven to be those of Qaeda members.