Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mullen 'increasingly concerned' on Iran; Lieberman: 'Egypt should fear Iran more than we do'

(AP).The top US military officer said Sunday he does not assume Iran's brief seizure of an Iraqi oil well is part of an orchestrated plan in Teheran to threaten its neighbors but that he was growing increasingly worried with Teheran's position.

"The clock now running" on the Obama administration's efforts at trying to keep the lines of communication open with Iran, Adm. Mike Mullen said.

The administration had given a rough deadline of the end of 2009 for Iran to respond to an offer of engagement and show that it would allay world concerns about its nuclear program. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports that offer, and has said any military strike on Iran, whether by Israel or the US, should be a last resort.

The administration is now beginning a push to get international support for additional penalties against Iran as a result, and Mullen suggested he thinks that backing was there.

"I think signals are very clearly in the air that another set of sanctions, another resolution, that that's coming," he said.

"I grow increasingly concerned that the Iranians have been non-responsive. I've said for a long time we don't need another conflict in that part of the world," he said. "I'm not predicting that would happen, but I think they've got to get to a position where they are a constructive force and not a destabilizing force."

The administration is concerned about Iran's refusal to carry through on a tentative deal struck in October that called for Iran to ship the majority of its low-enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for fuel to run a research reactor.

Mullen, who spoke to reporters while flying from Germany back to the US, said the oil well incident adds to his concerns about Iran's intentions toward neighboring Iraq and the rest of the world.

"I worry a great deal about ... Iran and destabilizing as opposed to stabilizing," he said.

"And I worry about, you know, the clock now running on the dialogue and the engagement and sort of, where are we if that doesn't finish well? And certainly recent indications are ... they're not very responsive."

Meanwhile in Washington, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said time was running out for Iran to cooperate.

"The international community is going to have to deal with that if they don't change their minds," he said. "I think that the world is united and is willing to take additional steps if the Iranians don't turn around. ... Plainly, there are going to be consequences if they don't turn around."

At the end of an hour-long meeting Sunday evening with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that "Egypt has more to fear from Iran than we do."

The foreign minister went on to stress that "The greatest danger in the Middle East today is Iran, which is a greater threat to moderate Arab nations than to Israel."

Teheran, according to Lieberman, is "attempting to duplicate the model of Hizbullah in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen.