Thursday, August 03, 2006

State Department "Responds" to Question Regarding the Nuclear Option

On June 19, 2006, fifteen Democratic Members of Congress wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to not use nuclear weapons to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis. The letter was spearheaded by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and was signed by Representatives Howard L. Berman (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), Jr., Pete Stark (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Diane E. Watson (D-CA), Rush D. Holt (D-NJ), Lynn C. Woolsey (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL).

The letter to President Bush states, “As you will recall, on April 18, 2006, you were asked ‘Sir, when you talk about Iran and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike?’ Your response to this question was ‘All options are on the table.’” The Representatives go on to urge the President “to make it clear that the U.S. is not actively considering first use of nuclear weapons against Iran in response to its efforts to obtain uranium enrichment capabilities,” noting that they believe there is still time for diplomacy.

On July 31, 2006, State Department Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Jeffrey T. Bergner responded to the Representatives’ inquiry. Bergner writes in his response that the White House had asked the State Department to respond on its behalf.

According to the letter, “Iran’s wanton disregard for the norms of international behavior remains a serious foreign policy concern for the United States.” The letter concludes, “We have sought to build a consensus that sends a strong message to the Iranian regime: it must work on a solution or become further isolated from the international community. We will continue to work with the international community to seek an end to Iran’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and to counter Iran’s support for terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere.”

The letter, however, does not directly answer the primary question raised by the 15 Democratic Representatives; that is whether or not the nuclear option is on the table. While the letter does not repeat what President Bush said on April 18, 2006, that “all options are on the table,” the letter also does not explicitly address the nuclear option, or the full spectrum of options being pursued by the US, for that matter. However, it is significant that the letter reiterates that “Both the President and Secretary Rice have said that the United States is committed to a peaceful, multilateral, diplomatic resolution to the issue.”

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