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UK Talks (Kinda) Tough on Iran

by John Reed on January 5, 2012

The UK’s defense secretary, Philip Hammond (in the suit above), made his first official visit to Washington, DC, today for a round of talks with the Pentagon to discus the United States’ new defense strategy. I was lucky enough to catch a talk he gave this morning downtown at the Atlantic Council before he headed across the Potomac to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

One of the most timely and interesting things Hammond said had to do with Iran; a country more and more people think we’re in a shadow war with. Remember, Iran just told the U.S. not to send an aircraft carrier back into the Persian GUlf and the White House recently announced that it will cut Iran’s central bank off from the world financial system if Tehran doesn’t quit working to build a nuclear bomb.

While Hammond left open the door for talks with Iran over its nuclear program, he essentially said that the UK and the West won’t back down from its pledge to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon — something he thinks Iran is going all out to achieve. The only way to combat this is by making it too painful for Iran to develop “illegal” nuclear weapons.

“My working assumption is that they are flat out,” said Hammond in response to an audience question about whether sanctions would only accelerate Iran’s efforts to build a bomb. “I would be very surprised  if somebody in Tehran is listening to people in Washington or London or Berlin or Paris and says, ‘you know what, I’m going to call up the guys down at the centrifuges to turn up the speed and go a bit faster.’ I think they’re going as fast as they can. Our working assumption has to be that Iran has settled on a course which it will only be deterred from if the price of achieving the goal that they have set becomes too high. That is what we’re in the process of doing by stepping up the pressure on oil revenues, on the operation of the central bank, of the economy, that generally is about raising the price and causing the regime to think about the price that it will pay in order to achieve the goal that it appears to have set for itself.”

Still, Hammond kept the tough talk to economic pain, saying he does not favor a preemptive military strike against the Middle Eastern country. This echoed his earlier comments where he said that the UK is ready to talk with Iran about ending its WMD program.

“We have a strategy of pressure and engagement. Pressure is clearly mounting, the sanctions announced have clearly rattled Tehran, the Iranian economy is very fragile” and the proposed sanctions that would isolate Iran’s central bank from the international financial system “is ratcheting up pressure on the regime,” said Hammond. “At the same time, we have to be prepared to engage if the regime is prepared to back down from the position that it has adopted over the illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons.  So we hope there will be a peaceful outcome. Part of ensuring a peaceful outcome is to make our resolution very clear; you don’t, in my judgement, deal with regimes like the Iranian regime by backing away, you stand firm while making it clear that there is scope for a peaceful resolution if they choose to take the opportunity.”

One has to wonder if sanctions, even those as tough as the ones that will cut it off from global markets will be enough to deter Iran if Western nations are unwilling to conduct a military strike against the Tehran’s nuke program. When asked if he thought Iran would try to bait the UK or US into armed conflict, Hammond said:

“I think, certainly on our side, and the U.S. side, that precautions are being taken that [ensure] any response to any provocation is very measured so that there isn’t an accidental escalation. Of course, what we cannot answer for is whether there is a [similar] plan on the other side.”

 

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Twidget at large January 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I wonder if Irans rulers even realize that they're a largeish fish in a pond with larger fish that don't quite want to go to the trouble of killing them.

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citanon January 6, 2012 at 1:28 am

Actually I'd say the US is closer to a guy standing outside the pond with a stick of dynamite in his hand, trying to figure out how much mess it will make and how many other fish he'll kill.

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pandaa January 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Is anyone able to give a link to an article that explains why Iran has a lot more teeth than Iraq did? I often see people allude to it being a much harder target than Iraq but have a hard time finding information on their defense that puts their abilities into perspective.

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Andrew January 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm

S-300s

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Dookdik January 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm

BFD, those'll be wiped out in the first hour of combat. Did they even take delivery of them yet?

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Dookdik January 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

It doesn't have more teeth.

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David January 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm

The reason the west has moved slower with Iran is worries about domestic civil unrest in the west due to another war.

If our govs thought they could start another big regional conflict without large amounts of civil unrest they would.

Iran from a defense standpoint is no more capable then iraq when talking about standing army capability. Their Planes and tanks and "s-300" sites would be easy targets. Like Iraq the potential armed issue is guerilla warfare.

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pandaa January 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Ok thanks. From the way people bash on about Iran on here it made me think that a conflict would see allied planes getting swatted out of the sky etc.

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blight January 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Realistically, the other problem will be that we won't have the advantage of total surprise: it's not like we are parked on the border and can roll across on a moment's notice. We will have to build up a land force in Kuwait that can roll on through Iraq into Iran or through the mountainous small shared border of Turkey with Iran. Neither is likely.

Staging a land attack would require shipping several armored divisions in by air and supporting them by air, as Pakistan is likely to cut us off at the knees when it comes to trucking supplies by land. I don't think we've ever tried a war where we could not ship in supplies en masse by seaport. It would not end well, to say the least.

The troops we have in Afghanistan are inappropriate for the tactics required to rapidly occupy a country, especially one the size of Iran and lacking in the damage done by economic sanctions and being forced to buy crappy export-grade tanks with crappy steel penetrators. It will at least be less of a cakewalk than Iraq, and likely a much slower, bloodier process.

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Tad January 5, 2012 at 7:00 pm

It's a relative thing. The US is now broke. Bankrupt. It was less broke when it invaded Iraq, so relatively speaking, Iran is a tougher opponent. To find a link to how broke the US is, just do a Google search.

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Dookdik January 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm

"The US is now broke."

Far from it.

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TH1 January 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm

It's beyond broke

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Jaws7 January 8, 2012 at 4:57 am

China and several hunded miles of tunnels. Hezbolla sitting on over 50,000 missiles waiting to join the party. An Iran that knows war is coming and has
prepared for it.

We should also remember King Henry 5 and the battle of Agincourt.

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Lance January 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Need allied support why not have a massive US UK air attack on Iran's Nuke program if needed.

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jamesb January 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Nice Talking…..

The Iranian's are NOT gonna stop trying to make that nuke bomb….

The Brits have prblem fielding a patrol boat for the whole Island….
An their F-35's are farther way then ever….

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PolicyWonk January 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm

The JCS has little interest in starting a shooting war with Iran, and their report is on-line. A look at a map of the region informs the observer why its called the "Persian Gulf". We've got a lot of folks still residing in Kuwait and its would be a huge pain supplying them via air. The Iranians essentially own the Straits of Hormuz, which could cause a lot of problems (the US would eventually prevail – but is the potential loss of a carrier worth it?).

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citanon January 6, 2012 at 1:44 am

Iran owns the Straits of Hormuz with what? Speed boats and WWII mines?

Take another look at that map, match it to positioning US military assets. We own the Persian Gulf straight and simple. Without any carrier in the equation, just USAF assets that are already in or could be flown into the region alone would break their back.

Tons of munitions are already pre-stored and even more is on its way: http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?I

You don't need 600 bunker busters and 4000 JDAM kits for surgical strikes against a few naval facilities and nuclear reactors. The scale of an operation that would require this much munition gives a clear picture of US intent if hostilities begin.

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Jaws7 January 8, 2012 at 5:09 am

I believe in the superiority of our armed forces and have faith in the ability of our men in uniform. They should be respected and used wisely. Is going to war with Iran a wise thing. If we blow up their nuclear reactors will they spill out radiation all over the Straits of Hormuz? Will tankers be willing to go in knowing they can be hit by a land launched missile. After we start bombing how many missiles will strike our bases. How many of Irans' allies will stop selling oil to the US and EU as a way of protesting our action. We will win but at what cost.

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STemplar January 6, 2012 at 2:17 am

Own the Straits? Hardly. If the Iranians made noise about doing that no one in the world is going to bat an eyelash at the US bombing them to the bronze age. Tanker traffic might be halted a few days while US air power reduced the revolutionary guard missile and naval facilities to rubble, that's about it.

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blight January 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

Praying Mantis did not inspire much confidence in Iranian sea denial capability. Things may have changed since then, but it remains to be seen.

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PolicyWonk January 5, 2012 at 9:42 pm

The talk from the British might mean more if they had something other than political support to add to the mix.

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Yayap January 6, 2012 at 1:21 am

Attack through afghanistan and secure a port south of the straight. There you have your resupply route. If you don’t think the US could accomplish this you vastly underestimate our military might. Economic woes or not, this is well within our capability. The real problem is getting drawn into another drawn out insurgent war.

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Riceball January 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm

There's still the matter of getting supplies into Afghanistan; we're having a hard enough time getting supplies into there for current operations, how exactly do you propose we get additional supplies there for operations in another theater?

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tiger January 6, 2012 at 9:10 am

The British Embassy in Iran still closed?

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Billy January 6, 2012 at 11:38 am

Let the Israelis deal with Iran. They can handle them any day.

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Mitch S. January 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm

The guys in the photo don't just represent the British military, with the new cuts they ARE the British military.

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Jaws7 January 8, 2012 at 5:22 am

What if they want it all. They may see the war with Iran as a way to break us.

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