WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Republican leader said Monday the United States should use overwhelming military force against Iran if American intelligence finds that Tehran has decided to build a nuclear weapon or it has started to enrich uranium to weapons-grade level, a bold call certain to reverberate in U.S.-Israeli talks about how to deal with an emboldened Iran.
Sen. Mitch McConnell said President Barack Obama's repeated pronouncement that the administration keeps "all options on the table" is a talking point, not a policy, and the United States needs a straightforward, deliberate plan that would force Tehran to negotiate to preserve its survival. McConnell was making the case for his proposal in a speech to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday night, shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to address the gathering.
"If Iran, at any time, begins to enrich uranium to weapons-grade level, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program," McConnell said, according to an advanced text of the speech.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the speech.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress last month that Tehran has not made a decision whether to proceed with development of an atomic bomb amid growing fears of its disputed nuclear weapons program and the possibility of an Israeli attack that could lead to a Mideast conflagration.
Prior to private talks with Netanyahu on Monday, Obama said the United States and Israel agree that diplomacy is the best way to resolve the crisis. For his part, Netanyahu said Israel must remain "the master of its fate."
McConnell said that if U.S. intelligence, at any time, informs Congress that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to weapons-grade standards or decided to develop a nuclear weapon, he would consult with the president and the joint congressional leadership on legislation authorizing the use of American military force.
Congress has not voted on such a resolution since October 2002 when it gave President George W. Bush the authority to use military force against Iraq.
"In the weeks and months ahead, Israel and the United States face a day of reckoning," McConnell said. "We either do what it takes to preserve the balance of power within the broader Middle East or risk a nuclear arms race across the region that's almost certain to upend it."
The Kentucky lawmaker said the authorization for U.S. military action against Iran would make clear that if Iran or its proxies retaliate against the United States or its interests, they would face an overwhelming response.
McConnell and other congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Tuesday when he travels to the Capitol.