Last Updated: Fri Nov 18, 2011 09:28 am (KSA) 06:28 am (GMT)

U.S. defense chief will urge Israeli caution over Iran

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey talk during a hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee on security issues on Nov. 15. (Reuters)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey talk during a hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee on security issues on Nov. 15. (Reuters)

U.S. defense chief Leon Panetta has said he would raise concerns about the “unintended consequences” of a possible military attack on Iran, including the impact on world economy, when he meets on Friday his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak.

Tension over Iran's nuclear program has increased since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported last week that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a bomb and may still be conducting secret research to that end.

Panetta, on a visit to Canada for a security forum that will include talks with his Israeli counterpart, renewed his warning of "unintended consequences" if Israel launched bombing raids on Iran's nuclear sites.

Panetta, speaking to reporters traveling with him to Canada, said the United States believed the most effective way to confront Iran still was to use diplomatic pressure and sanctions to try to curb the Islamic state's nuclear program.

President Barack Obama's administration favored a diplomatic approach designed to isolate Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment work, he told reporters in Halifax.

"That is the most effective way to try to confront them at this point. Obviously to go beyond that, raises our concerns about the unintended consequences that could result," said Panetta, echoing comments he made last week.

A strike on Iran would at best only delay the nuclear program by about two years, endanger U.S. forces in the region and possibly damage both the American and global economy, he said.

"And I have to tell you, thirdly, there are going to be economic consequences to that, that could impact not just on our economy but the world economy," Panetta said. "So those things all need to be considered."

The former CIA director did not elaborate on the possible economic effect of war against Tehran, but Western governments have long calculated that oil-rich Iran could throw world oil markets into turmoil by disrupting shipping lanes in the Gulf.

Panetta said that he had raised similar concerns with Israel previously, and said he was not carrying any new "message" to Barak.

"I've made those points before," he said, and will "discuss them again."

Israeli officials have fed speculation about a possible strike against Iran after the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a critical report suggesting Iran was moving to develop nuclear weapons.

The six powers involved in diplomacy on Iran - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - hammered out a joint resolution in intense negotiations and submitted it to the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a Vienna-based U.N. body, which is expected to debate and vote on it on Friday.

It aims to increase pressure on Iran to address fears about its atomic ambitions. But it is not expected to satisfy those in the West and in Israel, who had hoped IAEA document would trigger concrete international action, such as an IAEA referral of its case to the U.N. Security Council.

The United States, France and Britain have seized on the IAEA report as justification to increase pressure on Iran, already under four rounds of Security Council sanctions and additional US and European Union restrictions.

Some analysts have portrayed the speculation over military strikes on Iran as a bid by Israel to push countries to endorse tougher sanctions on Tehran.

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