AMMAN // Adm Mike Mullen, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned yesterday of the consequences of Iran's efforts to develop its nuclear programme. "They are on a path to become a nuclear-capable weapon country and that is very dangerous," he told a press conference at the US Embassy in Amman. He added that a nuclear Iran would destabilise the entire region. "Where it might go from there is not very predictable."
The admiral arrived in Jordan yesterday as part of a regional tour that seeks to muster support for a new round of sanctions against Iran. He met with King Abdullah and his Jordanian counterpart, Gen Khaled Jamil Sarayrah. Adm Mullen said his visit aims to strengthen the military partnership between the US and Jordan and "to offer my hope and desire to find ways where we can work better together to address the security challenges here in the Middle East and around the world".
The Obama administration, fretting about Tehran's nuclear ambitions, has launched a diplomatic offensive this week and dispatched a convoy of high-ranking officials, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to the region. Washington wants the UN to impose tougher penalties on Tehran because it suspects that it is trying to develop atomic weapons, while Iran claims its programme is for peaceful purposes only.
The United States is also strengthening its missile defences in the Arab Gulf states to guard against any Iranian missile attacks on its regional allies. Adm Mullen's visit to Jordan, a key US ally in the Middle East, follows stops he made in Egypt and Israel over the past few days. It also reflects the rising level of anxiety generated by Iran's recently announced plans to enrich up to 20 per cent level, which represents the threshold between low-enriched and high-enriched uranium.
Adm Mullen did not rule out military action against Iran, and said the window for engagement and dialogue was still open. "Iran is of great concern to all of us. The priority for president [Barack] Obama and his administration has been dialogue and engagement, while at the same time, all options are on the table. "There is a clear movement inside the international community to move to sanctions in the UN in the near future," he added.
Although Jordan does not see eye-to-eye with Iran on its policies in the region, particularly its support for Hizbollah and its influence on Iraqi affairs, it stands firm against military action against the Islamic republic. "We condemn Iranian support for the Houthi rebels [in Yemen] as well as its behaviour towards the Gulf states over the disputed islands," Imad Maayeh, a retired Jordanian senior military official, said. "But we do not want to see Iran attacked. We do not want more conflicts that would further destabilise the region. The Iranian nuclear programme is not a threat to Jordan."
Instead, Jordan sees the continuing failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as the greatest threat to regional security and stability. King Abdullah said solving the conflict could pave the way for Iran to giving up its nuclear programme. He told CNN last month: "Now, again, the argument that I sometimes hear in circles is the Iranians are pursuing a military programme and therefore this is a threat to Israel. But if we solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem why would Iranians want to spend so much money on a military programme?"
Some analysts suggested that what is actually disturbing the West and Israel is Iran's ballistic missile programme and its foreign policy, more than its nuclear capabilities. "Regardless of the range of the [ballistic] missiles and their ability to reach their targets, the very fact that they exist and that they can be developed, is the greatest source of [anger] with Iran," Mahjoob Zweiri, specialist on Iran and the Middle East at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, wrote in Alghad daily last week.
"The roots of the crisis between Iran and the West have two main reasons: the issue of Iranian capabilities, and Tehran's foreign policy which - according to Israeli and Western assessments - threatens the security of the Jewish state. The issue of Iran's [nuclear] capabilities is creating a state of panic but at the same time there are continuous efforts to exaggerate these capabilities." firstname.lastname@example.org