The Bush administration should stop talking about a military attack as an option if negotiations do not immediately halt Iran"s uranium reprocessing program, two former national security advisers said yesterday.
"Don"t talk about "do we bomb them now or later?" " said Brent Scowcroft, adviser to presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush, during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the negotiations between the United States and Iran.
Scowcroft added that by mentioning that threat, "we legitimize the use of force . . . and may tempt the Israelis" to carry out such a mission. He said he thinks that negotiations must continue and that sanctions have had an effect on Tehran, noting that even with elevated oil prices, Iran, alone among oil producers, is having a difficult time economically.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, adviser to President Jimmy Carter, described the Bush administration"s policy of maintaining the option of military action as "counterproductive."
"I don"t want the public to believe a preemptive attack can be justified," he said. Repeating the possibility "convinces Iran it is being threatened . . . and maybe it ought to have a [nuclear] weapon."
He added that a U.S. attack on Iran would be a "disaster," suggesting it could result in the U.S. fighting "for at least two decades" on four fronts -- Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Brzezinski said he fears that if negotiations break down between now and the end of the year, some in the Bush administration might believe "it justifies doing something."
Both former advisers said they think both Washington and Tehran are internally divided on how to proceed, making progress difficult before the next U.S. president takes office. But they said that President Bush"s sending Undersecretary of State William J. Burns to the most recent negotiations with Iran was a positive step.
"It brings the U.S. solidly in with the Europeans and the Russians," Scowcroft said.
Both also said there are parallels between negotiations with Iran and previous talks with North Korea on its nuclear programs. One difference is the role of China: Scowcroft pointed out that the Chinese, once engaged in the North Korea discussions, were "decisive" because Beijing has enormous economic leverage over Pyongyang.
China does not have similar influence over Iran. Scowcroft said that in partnership with the Germans, the two "could affect the Iran negotiations."