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Panetta Cautions Israel Against Iran Military Strike

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a news conference at the Pentagon, Nov. 10, 2011.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a news conference at the Pentagon, Nov. 10, 2011.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he is cautioning Israel not to take military action against Iran, as the U.N. nuclear agency prepares to debate a resolution expressing "deep and increasing concern" about Iran's nuclear program.

Panetta said on the eve of his meeting Friday with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak, that a military strike could have severe economic consequences around the world. He said the U.S. will continue to focus on sanctions as a means to curb Iran's suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.

Also Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency holds its first meeting since it alleged there is "credible" evidence Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons. During the session, the agency is expected to debate a new resolution from the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany which says the world powers are increasingly worried Iran is using its nuclear program to develop military weapons.

The United States and several European countries have been pushing the nuclear watchdog to come down hard on Iran for its nuclear program.

Iran rejected last week's IAEA report and has continually denied allegations it is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Russia and China have expressed skepticism about the IAEA report. Russian officials dismissed the findings as nothing new.

Recent reports in the Israeli media said Israel's government has been considering a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites. The Israeli defense chief warned during a U.S. television interview with PBS's Charlie Rose that Iran could spark a new, nuclear arms race if it gets a nuclear bomb.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Tehran will respond to any military strike by Israel or its main ally the United States with "strong slaps and iron fists."

Seeking to increase the pressure against Iran, a U.S. Senator Republican Mark Kirk Thursday introduced new legislation aimed at collapsing Iran's central bank. The amendment would allow the U.S. to cut off any foreign financial institution for doing business with the bank, though it allowed for certain exceptions to try to ensure the oil market would not be disrupted, and to ensure food and medical aid could continue to the Iranian public.

The U.N. Security Council has passed four sets of sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop nuclear activities that have both civilian and military uses.