An Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be a high-risk move that could destabilize the Middle East, the Pentagon's top military officer said Wednesday.
At a Defense Department press conference, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refused to say what Israeli leaders told him during meetings last week about any intentions to strike Iran. Mullen said he favored more dialogue with Tehran to avoid a confrontation.
But asked whether he was concerned Israel would strike before the end of the year, he said: "This is a very unstable part of the world and I don't need it to be more unstable." But, he added, "I think that just about every move in that part of the world is a high-risk move."
Mullen said a war with Iran would be "extremely stressful" on the US military. But he made clear the United States would act to reopen the Strait of Hormuz if Tehran tried to block the key oil transport route in the Gulf. American forces are severely strained already by wars on two fronts - the nearly seven-year-old campaign in Afghanistan and more than five years in Iraq.
Tensions have flared in recent days amid reports Israel is planning for a possible strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. That has sent crude oil prices near record highs and led US officials to publicly criticize the reports.
"My position with regard to the Iranian regime hasn't changed. They remain a destabilizing factor in the region," said Mullen, recently returned from a trip to Israel.
Iran: A new atmosphere in talks
"But I'm convinced that the solution still lies in using other elements of national power to change Iranian behavior, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure," he told reporters at the Pentagon.
His comments came as Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated his country was open to talks with Western powers over the incentives package.
"We saw the potential for the beginning for a new round of talks," Mottaki said, according to the Washington Post.
On Wednesday, Mottaki said he saw a "new sort of atmosphere" in the nuclear talks and expected to reply to the incentives offer soon.
In a press conference earlier in the day, President Bush also was asked about increasing speculation that Israel will launch a military strike, saying that all options are on the table but that military action would not be his first choice.
"I have made it very clear to all parties that the first option ought to be solve this problem diplomatically," Bush said. "And the best way to solve it diplomatically is for the United States to work with other nations to send a focused message - and that is, you will be isolated, and you will have economic hardship, if you continue to enrich" uranium for a bomb.