AP: William Perry, who headed the Pentagon during a 1994 nuclear standoff with North Korea, predicted on Thursday that President-elect Barack Obama will soon face a nuclear crisis with Iran.
The Associated Press
By ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON (AP) — William Perry, who headed the Pentagon during a 1994 nuclear standoff with North Korea, predicted on Thursday that President-elect Barack Obama will soon face a nuclear crisis with Iran.
Iran is "moving inexorably toward becoming a nuclear power," with ominous implications for the Middle East, Perry said.
"It seems clear that Israel will not sit by idle while Iran takes the final steps toward becoming a nuclear power," Perry told a conference on foreign policy challenges facing the incoming Obama administration. The former Clinton administration defense secretary held out hope that more vigorous U.S. and international diplomacy could reverse North Korea's nuclear weapons program. But he was less confident about stopping Iran's ambitions.
"President Obama will almost certainly face a serious crisis with Iran," Perry said. "Indeed, I believe the crisis point will be reached in his first year in office. So on the nuclear front, President Obama will face a daunting set of problems, none of which can be solved unilaterally."
Iran denies that its nuclear program is intended to build weapons. The Bush administration, while dismissing Iran's claims of pursuing only peaceful uses of nuclear power, declined to negotiate directly with Iran.
Obama has said he favors "tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions," and that his administration, working with allies, will seek a comprehensive settlement with Iran to end its nuclear ambitions.
Perry was Pentagon chief when the U.S. negotiated a "framework agreement" with North Korea that froze its nuclear weapons program. In exchange, the U.S., Japan and South Korea agreed to provide the North with two reactors that would produce electricity but pose a lesser risk of nuclear proliferation. Perry has said the U.S. came close to a military conflict with North Korea before the deal.
The agreement came undone during the Bush administration; North Korea now claims to have a nuclear arsenal.
Perry is a mathematician and engineer who played a role in both government and industry in developing nuclear-capable weaponry during the Cold War. He issued a passionate warning about the dangers of failing to reverse the spread of nuclear weapons capability.
"If North Korea and Iran cannot be contained, we face the real danger of a cascade of proliferation" of nuclear armed-states, he said. "Indeed, I believe that today we are clearly at the tipping point of nuclear proliferation. And if the world does tip, it will be irreversible and dangerous beyond the imagination of most people."
Perry is chairman of a bipartisan commission created by Congress to study an array of strategic issues including the future of U.S. nuclear weapons. In its interim report to Congress last month, the panel asserted that the spread of nuclear weapons to North Korea and other countries raises the danger that a terrorist group eventually could get its hands on a nuclear weapon and use it against the United States.