Senior U.S. Official: We Want To 'Buy Time' in Confrontation with Iran
February 29, 2012 • 9:11AM

There are some voices in Washington echoing the war avoidance line of Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Anthony Blinken, National Security Adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security, said Monday that U.S. policy on Iran is aimed at "buying time and continuing to move this problem into the future, and if you can do that — strange things can happen in the interim... You never know."

Speaking at a briefing organized by the Israeli Policy Forum (IPF) in New York, Blinken also said that the U.S. believes that Iran "has not made a decision to produce a nuclear weapon, they are not on the verge of getting a nuclear weapon, and there is still time and space for diplomacy to work." Carefully choosing his words, Blinken said that Israel views a nuclear Iran as "an existential threat," while the U.S. believes that it would pose "a direct and serious threat" to its own security. But, he added, "Israel has to make its own decisions. We are not in the business of telling our allies and partners what to do when it comes to their own national security."

In a short interview with Ha'aretz following his briefing, Blinken said that the assessments of Israel and the U.S. on Iran are "very close" to each other, "but because we are in different places, even physically, there may be tactical differences between the two countries — but the fundamental strategic position is the same." Blinken added that as far as he knows, "Israel has not made any decision about what it might or might not do."

Regarding the statement made last week by General Dempsey, that Iran is a "rational country," Blinken said that "you can have big debates about their rationality or lack of rationality, just as there were about the Soviet Union and China. But in the past, Iran has responded to effective pressure."

"There are individuals on all sides who unfortunately use the debate over policy toward Israel for political purposes, and unfortunately, because of the season that we're in now, that only gets worse and worse and worse. For generations, Israel has been a bastion of bipartisan consensus — the stakes are too high for us and for Israel to let that change now," he said. "We can question each other's judgment — but not each other's motives."

He struck a similar note concerning the "rhetorical drumbeat of war." Such declarations "play into the hands of the Iranians" by "ratcheting up tensions," he said, causing oil prices to rise and "money to go into the pockets of the Iranians and out of ours."

Blinken said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems "more interested" in defusing tensions with the West than Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose "raison d'être is confrontation with the U.S." At the same time, Blinken admitted that the U.S. has "extraordinarily imperfect information" about the situation inside Iran's feuding ruling circles.