BEIJING, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama has indicated sanctions on Iran should remain in place but he has hope for a "pathway" to a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue with Tehran.
Obama told reporters at the White House Thursday he is still open to talks with Iran if Tehran takes "confidence-building measures" to prove it is not pursuing nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reported.
The remarks appeared to conflict with those by U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who said Washington had a plan to use military measures to deny Iran nuclear weapons.
Many analysts believe the current U.S. administration still prefers sanctions when it comes to the Iranian nuclear issue and a military strike would be its last resort.
MILITARY STRIKE UNLIKELY
Mullen said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that a military option against Iran had not been ruled out. "It's one of the options that the president has. Again, I hope we don't get to that, but it's an important option and it's one that's well understood."
The prospects of an attack and of a nuclear-armed Iran were both very worrisome, he said, adding that he believed multilateral diplomacy and international economic sanctions remained the best means to force the Iranian government to abandon its nuclear program.
Michael O'Hanlon, director of research of foreign policy at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said the United States was unlikely to launch a military strike against Iran.
"To say that an option is on the table is not the same thing as to say there is a detailed plan. Detailed plan implies real preparation and readiness to carry this out. It implies the almost potential imminence, whereas keeping this as an option is just that," he said.
O'Hanlon cited Obama's policy against preemptive strikes. "Because, in the end, this will in many ways be a form of preemption. President Obama campaigned against the idea of preemption."
The United States will more likely seek cooperation with other world powers -- China, France, Britain and Russia -- and try to put Iran under economic pressure, he said.
Since June, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union have tightened sanctions on Iran over its refusal to return to international talks on its nuclear program, which the West fears is a cover to build an atomic bomb. Tehran denies the allegation, saying it is for the generation of electricity.
The other reason a military strike was unlikely, O'Hanlon said, was that it would not be very effective.
"It (a military strike) will probably set Iran back a couple of years. But Iran could relocate and build new facilities," he said, adding that Tehran would have much more determination and domestic support to carry out its nuclear program.
Besides, "a lot of countries around the world, in the aftermath of the strike, may decide not to continue to apply sanctions, so we might lose ground on sanctions. On all the political and economic fronts, a military attack will set us back," he said.
"If you add up the pros and cons, the equation looks fairly unfavorable for using force," the expert said.
IRAN SAYS READY FOR WAR
Mullen's remarks elicited a furious response from Iran, whose media has carried criticism and vows of retaliation against Washington almost daily since.
Commander of the Iranian Army's Ground Force, Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan, said on Wednesday the United States had no capability to start a war with the "powerful" Islamic Republic of Iran, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Iranian forces were in full readiness to confront the enemy on the ground, in the air and on the sea, Pourdastan said, noting that any attack against the country would be faced with a crushing response.
On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the attack threat against Tehran made by Mullen was "imprudent remarks" that were linked to the United States' anger and frustration following its repeated failures in the Middle East.
Political deputy of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)Yadollah Javani said Monday "the U.S. and the Zionist regime (Israel) will not dare to make a military attack against Iran," adding that Mullen's remarks were just "psychological tactics."
They had made similar statements before and such threats were aimed at "exerting pressure on Iran in the nuclear talks and for winning concessions," Javani said.
Analysts said that, for Iranians, who had been feeling years of pain from economic sanctions and hearing repeated reports about U.S. attack against their country, the nuclear issue is remote from everyday concerns.
They did not pay much attention to the fresh U.S. threat, but people and media outside Iran were taking it more seriously, they said.
IMPACT OF A POSSIBLE STRIKE
Iran has consistently warned it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, which separates Oman from Iran and is the gateway to the oil-rich Gulf.
The IRGC's Javani warned Monday that any mistake by Washington. would endanger security in the entire region.
"And as it was said before, the Persian Gulf would be safe either for all or for none ... The Persian Gulf is a strategic region. If its security is in danger, this will jeopardize their (Americans') interests too, and our response would be tough," the IRNA quoted him as saying.
Amid rising tensions between Iran and the West, the Revolutionary Guards staged large scale war games in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz in late April in a bid to show its ability to control the crucial energy and economic waterway.
With about 40 percent of the world's traded oil leaving the Gulf region through it, the Strait of Hormuz is particularly vulnerable because it is only 50 km wide at its widest point.
The analysts warned that, once America launched an attack, security in the entire Gulf region would deteriorate, which would have an unthinkable impact on oil prices and the global economy.
Meanwhile, an abrupt U.S.-Iran war would bear on the politics in Iran and the Middle East as well, they said.
The U.S. State Department said in its annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" report that Iran remained the "most active" state sponsor of terrorism, providing financial, material and logistic support for terrorist and militant groups in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Its actions had a "direct impact" on international efforts to promote peace, threatened economic stability in the Gulf, and undermined the growth of democracy, said the report, released Thursday.
If the U.S. went to war with Iran, the political pattern in the Middle East would change, as countries with interests there would adjust their policies in the region, the experts predicted.
O'Hanlon said a military strike would complicate the U.S. ability to maintain a strong coalition because it might make the U.S. look like a unilateral power, raising concerns about a return to the Bush administration's policy.