US Defense Secretary Robert Gates launched a public relations offensive over the weekend playing down the significance of an internal memo on the Iran nuclear program whose contents were reported in the New York Times Sunday.
The Gates Iran memo, reportedly written in January for national security adviser Gen. James Jones warned that the US "does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability," according to the Times.
The New York Times story quoted an anonymous, senior administration official saying that the memo had been a "wake-up call." But Gates, in a statement later Sunday, said that sources who leaked word of the memo to the New York Times had "mis-characterized the purpose and content" of the memo, the Washington Post reported.
"The memo was not intended as a 'wake up call' or received as such by the President's national security team," Gates said. "Rather, it
presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process."
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said: "It is absolutely false that any memo touched off a
reassessment of our options. The administration has been planning for all contingencies regarding Iran for many months."
The New York Times posted a follow-up story late Sunday which included quotes from Gates' statement.
“With the administration’s pivot to a pressure track on Iran earlier this year, the memo identified next steps in our defense planning process where further interagency discussion and policy decisions would be needed in the months and weeks ahead,” Mr. Gates said.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona brought up the memo on Fox News Sunday, saying: "I didn't need a secret memo from Mr. Gates to ascertain that ... we do not have a coherent policy" on Iran's nuclear program.
Iran has test-fired and displayed "Shahab-3" missile that could hit Israel, CBS reported, and the US military believes Iran could build a nuclear weapon in a year's time. "While Secretary Gates denies he was trying to shake things up at the White House, sources say his memo did exactly that, for those contingency planners inside the Pentagon," CBS reported.
A senior Iranian official said Monday that Iran has started work on a new uranium enrichment plant, Reuters reported.
Iran and the West were nearing a deal last year in which Russia and France would convert Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to more highly enriched nuclear fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran. The deal as originally proposed would have reduced the stocks of leu under Iranian control to such an extent that it would no longer have sufficient uranium to contemplate starting the process of building a bomb.
Tehran eventually refused to take the deal. In February Iran started its own high-level enrichment. Tehran insists its program is for non-military, civilian research and energy purposes.
Washington is now pressing the UN Security Council for a new round of tough sanctions to persuade Tehran to stop its uranium enrichment program.