Pentagon Chief Ashton Carter: Iran Deal Doesn't Prevent Military Option

Carter arrives in Israel, says he has no expectation of persuading Israeli leaders to drop their opposition to nuclear deal.

Ashton Carter is met by Charge D'affaires William Grant, Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel, IDF Attaché to the U.S. Yaacov Ayish and U.S. Defense Attaché to Israel General John Shapland.
Ashton Carter is met by Charge D'affaires William Grant, Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel, IDF Attaché to the U.S. Yaacov Ayish and U.S. Defense Attaché to Israel General John Shapland.Credit: Matty stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in Israel on Sunday evening, ahead of meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

Carter said Sunday he has no expectation of persuading Israeli leaders to drop their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, but will instead emphasize that the accord imposes no limits on what Washington can do to ensure the security of Israel and U.S. Arab allies.

"Our ability to carry out that strategy is unchanged," Carter told reporters aboard his plane en route to Tel Aviv.

The Obama administration reserves the right to use military force against Iran if necessary, he added, although the nuclear deal is intended to preclude that by resolving the issue diplomatically.

Carter is scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Ya'alon on Monday and with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday before traveling to Saudi Arabia and Jordan to consult on the implications of the Iran deal and to assess progress in the regional campaign against the Islamic State.

Netanyahu has been harshly critical of the Iran nuclear deal, asserting that it clears the way for Iran to build nuclear weapons that would threaten Israel's existence and ultimately diminish U.S. and global security.

In an interview on ABC on Sunday Netanyahu said he intends to urge U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in their meeting not to go forward with the deal. "Don't make this bad deal. Hold out for a better deal," he said.

Carter in turn said that he's "not going to change anybody's mind in Israel. We can agree to disagree."

In his remarks, Carter repeatedly mentioned that the Iran deal places no limitations on the U.S. defense strategy or its military presence in the Middle East, which includes warplanes, an aircraft carrier and tens of thousands of troops.

In his interview with ABC, Netanyahu rejected the idea that Israel could be somehow compensated following the nuclear agreement with Iran.

"How can you compensate a country, my country, against a terrorist regime that is sworn to our destruction and is going to get a path to nuclear bombs and billions of dollars," he asked, adding that no one would be speaking about a need to compensate Israel if the deal was good.

In his interview, Carter previewed the message he will convey to Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia on behalf of President Barack Obama, who already has called a number of Mideast leaders to reaffirm U.S. support and to explain the Iran deal.

"This is a good deal," Carter said. "It removes a critical element of danger, threat and uncertainty from the region," and does so in a way that can be verified not only by the U.S. but by the international community.

Asked whether he thinks the Iran accord makes it more likely that Israel will launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran, Carter noted that the U.S. has discussed military options with Israel for a number of years.

"One of the reasons this deal is a good one is that it does nothing to prevent the military option — the U.S. military option, which I'm responsible for" and which will be improved and preserved, he said, adding that he could not speak for Israel.

The U.S. State Department formally submitted the nuclear agreement reached between world powers and Iran in Vienna last week to Congress. The 60-day period for U.S. lawmakers to review the deal will begin on Monday.

Netanyahu said he intends to convey his opposition to the agreement to U.S. lawmakers. "I feel it's my obligation as the prime minister of Israel to speak out against something that endangers the survival of my country," he said in an interview with CBS.

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