New York Times: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged Sunday that he had written a classified memorandum to the White House in January raising significant questions about long-term Iran policy, but said his goal had been only “to contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process.” The New York Times
By THOM SHANKER and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged Sunday that he had written a classified memorandum to the White House in January raising significant questions about long-term Iran policy, but said his goal had been only “to contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process.”
The New York Times reported in its Sunday editions that Mr. Gates had warned in a secret three-page memo that the United States did not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability.
Prior to publication of the article, Obama administration officials had not publicly confirmed nor denied the memo’s existence.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Mr. Gates said he wished to correct what he described as mischaracterizations about the memo’s content and purpose, and to dispel any perception among allies that the administration had failed to adequately think through how to deal with Iran.
“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.
“The memo was not intended as a ‘wake-up call’ or received as such by the president’s national security team,” he added. “Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process.”
The New York Times article quoted one senior official as saying the document was a “wake-up call.” But Mr. Gates said, “The New York Times sources who revealed my January memo to the national security advisor mischaracterized its purpose and content.”
Senior administration officials, asked Sunday to give specific examples of what was mischaracterized in the article, declined to discuss the content of the memo, citing its classified status. In his statement, Mr. Gates offered no details on the issues he raised in his memo.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, weighed in on the debate Sunday by saying that while extensive effort had been spent on developing Iran strategy, it remained a complicated and vexing national security challenge.
“It has been worked and it continues to be worked,” Admiral Mullen said during a forum at Columbia University in New York. “If there was an easy answer, we would’ve picked it off the shelf.”
Admiral Mullen reiterated his longstanding view that while military strikes could delay Iran’s nuclear program, diplomatic inducements and economic penalties remained the preferred course. He said that military action was the “last option.”
Senior Republicans said Sunday that gaps in Iran policy were self-evident. Senator John McCain of Arizona said he did not need a secret memo from Mr. Gates to be persuaded that the administration was mishandling Iran.
“We do not have a coherent policy,” Mr. McCain said on “Fox News Sunday,” although he noted that an unsuccessful policy that focused on threatening ever-tougher sanctions had begun in the Bush administration.
“We have to be willing to pull the trigger on significant sanctions,” Senator McCain said. “And then we have to make plans for whatever contingencies follow if those sanctions are not effective.”
In his statement, Mr. Gates sought to reassure overseas allies and partners — presumably Israel and Arab states in the Persian Gulf — as well as to put Iran on notice that the administration had the policy and capabilities.
“There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries that the United States is properly and energetically focused on this question and prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests,” Mr. Gates wrote.
Through a long career in national security, Mr. Gates has warned of the risks of “strategic surprise.” He is known for pressing the government-wide national security apparatus to define policy, prepare capabilities and decide on required authorities in advance of potential crises.