Washington — The Obama administration is maintaining and improving the option of a military strike as a means of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon even as a nuclear deal goes ahead, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.
“One of the reasons why 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, President Obama charges us with doing, and which we are preserving and continually improving,” Carter said Sunday in a meeting with reporters aboard the plane heading to Israel for an official visit.
Carter began meeting on Monday with Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also toured Israel’s border with Lebanon.
Israel adamantly opposes the nuclear deal reached last week by the major powers and Iran, saying it leaves Iran a nuclear weapons threshold state, and Netanyahu has said he reserves “all options” to keep Iran from going nuclear.
President Barack Obama says the deal, which swaps sanctions relief for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, is the best way to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Carter said his trip to the region, which also includes a stop in Saudi Arabia, another deal skeptic, is not aimed at persuading skeptical allies but of reassuring them of continued U.S. military support in the deal’s wake.
“The deal doesn’t limit the United States in any way,” he said. “It doesn’t limit what we do to carry out our strategy in the region. It doesn’t limit what we can and will do in defense of our good and staunch friend Israel.”
Carter said he would instead focus in his meetings with Netanyahu and Yaalon on “ways that we can strengthen an alliance and partnership that is now some 80 years strong, bedrock of American strategy in the region, a critical friend, critical ally, and ensuring their QME, helping them to deter and defend from aggression and terrorism, malign influence.”
QME refers to the qualitative military edge Israel seeks to maintain in the region.
Carter met Yaalon in Jerusalem, where the Israeli defense minister expressed appreciation for close U.S.-Israel ties. They toured Israel’s north where, Carter said before the visit, “we’ll have an opportunity to review firsthand what’s occurring across the border there, including the threat that Israel faces from Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah, a Lebanese Iranian-armed and allied militia that in 2006 launched a war against Israel, in recent years has massively built its missile holdings in Lebanon.
Netanyahu took his case against the Iran nuclear deal to the American public on Sunday, in interviews with ABS and CBS.