Mullen: Sanctions are taking a toll on Iran's nuclear ambitions
Speaking after meeting with U.S. top commander, IDF chief Ashkenazi says supports continued U.S.-led diplomatic, economic pressure on Islamic Republic.
Sanctions are taking a toll on Iran's attempt to achieve nuclear capabilities, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen said following a meeting with Israel Defense Forces chief Gabi Askenazi on Wednesday.
The U.S. army chief added, however, that Washington was still weighing "all options" in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions.
On Tuesday U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he saw little choice but to pursue a political strategy that includes sanctions, reiterating his concerns that a military strike would only delay Iranian nuclear capabilities by two or three years.
Speaking to reporters in a joint press conference at the Pentagon on Wednesday, both Mullen and Ashkenazi stressed the need to maintain the diplomatic and economic tract in trying to sway Iran away from its contention nuclear program, with the U.S. army chief saying that "right now the focus is on dialogue and engagement and sanctions."
"The sanctions are actually taking a fairly significant bite, and that's the current path," Mullen said, adding there was a "body of evidence that indicates that the sanctions are taking their toll much more rapidly than some had anticipated, more deeply."
The IDF chief, echoing Mullen's remarks, said that, "as far as the sanctions, I think we fully support the current path and also the assessment whether they are effective or not."
"The real question here: Is it sufficient enough to persuade, I would say, the Iranians to change the course of action in terms of the nuclear program, and that has to be determined," Ashkenazi said.
The IDF chief added that he felt more time was needed I "to watch it and see what will be the final outcome," adding that as a "whole, it's a -- it's a serious effort, and we appreciate the American leading in putting it in place and to continue with this pressure."
Referring to the possible consequences of Iran achieving nuclear arms capability, Mullen said he thought "Iran is on a path to achieve nuclear capability and that that would be a disaster for the region, incredibly destabilizing," adding, however, that he felt the diplomatic tract was the right mode of operation.
"We've all been pretty clear here that all options remain on the table, including military options, and will -- and will remain on the table in the future," the U.S. army chief said, adding: "All of that said, I think the current focus is the right focus, but it's something we never take our eye off in terms of the continuing evolution of where Iran is going."
"I look forward to a day when Iran is actually a responsible country making a positive and constructive difference in the region, which is not what they do right now," Mullen added.
Ashkenazi, in turn, also referred to recent reports claiming U.S. President Barack Obama's administration had pledged to deliver 20 more advanced F-35 fighters as an incentive to a possible settlement freeze, saying that while he did "want to go into politics about the political side of it, but definitely the fourth- generation fighter is important to the Israeli air force."
"As you probably know, we recommend the government already to acquire the first squadron, and we discuss it with the administration. And that's already decided, and we are going on," Ashkenazi said.
"About the extra 20, definitely we'll be more than happy to get them. As I understand - that's the latest information I have on this issue - it's still a negotiation between the Israeli government and the administration. I don't know the final decision," he added.