PRAGUE –- During a visit to RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague on August 26, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) said there is "clear" evidence that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapons capacity and that if Tehran achieves this goal it would represent a threat to the entire world.
"I am supportive of the current approach of the Unites States administration toward Iran's nuclear weapons development program," he said. "We think this is evidence -- clear -- not just from the U.S. but international United Nations agencies, that the Iranian regime is building the capacity to build a nuclear weapon -- many of them -- and that if that happened it would be threatening to the entire region and the entire world."
Lieberman, in an interview with Niusha Boghrati of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, pointed out it is not only the United States and Israel -- or the West in general -- that is threatened by Iran's pursuit of a nuclear capacity.
"There is tremendous fear of Iran with nuclear weapons, not just in the United States and Israel, for instance, but throughout the Arab world and, of course, in Europe," he said. "So, what was the hope -- that the sanctions would hurt the Iranian economy and perhaps create the kind of pressure from the people on the regime in Tehran, to lead the regime to pull back from its total support of this nuclear weapons development program -- that part, I would say unfortunately, has not had the result that we had wanted."
Lieberman said there is a general consensus that Iran already has enough enriched fuel to build five small nuclear weapons.
Iran denies that it is pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear enrichment is for purely peaceful purposes.
Lieberman said the failure of sanctions to convince Tehran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program could push countries such as the United States to consider more drastic actions.
"So, we're coming to a point where there will only be two choices for not just the U.S and Israel but other countries." Lieberman said. "Will we simply sit back and let Iran become a nuclear power and destabilize the region and start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East? Or will we be compelled to take some military action to delay or destroy that program?"
He said it "doesn't make any sense" to wait until Iran actually possesses nuclear weapons to take military action. "What we are saying," he said, "is [that] we have to be ready, if all else fails -- economic sanctions, diplomacy, etc."
But many, even in the intelligence community, have suggested that an attack on Iran would not totally eliminate the Islamic republic's ability to produce nuclear weapons, since Iran's nuclear facilities are believed to be located deep underground or inside mountains.
Asked about that, Lieberman replied that a military strike would at least delay Tehran's nuclear ambitions and buy time until a new Iranian regime, possibly more amenable to negotiations, came to power.
"I think we have the capability either to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program or to disable it in a way that it will be delayed for enough years that we may hope and pray that there will be a regime change and that there will be a more democratic and friendly regime," he said.
In the end, Lieberman said, it is up to Iran's leadership to make the correct choices and engage with the international community.
"If there is military action by anyone outside of Iran against Iran's nuclear program, it's only because the government in Tehran has given us no other choice. And I hope it doesn't come to that," he said.
"Members of both parties politically in the United States, and the American people, want peace with Iran," Lieberman continued. "But if Iran doesn't respond by altering its nuclear program, the prospects of U.S. military action are high."