TAMPA - The time for diplomacy with Iran is quickly coming to an end and the United States should soon "start the clock ticking" as a warning that the United States is prepared and willing to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, according to Romney campaign co-chair Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Neither the Iranians nor the Israelis see as credible Barack Obama' statements that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option and that the president would use force to prevent that from happening, Pawlenty told The Cable in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. A Mitt Romney administration would employ various new tactics to increase U.S. leverage over the Iranians and bolster the credibility of the threat of military action, he said.
"Options would include concluding the negotiations are not working, that the Iranians aren't taking them seriously, bringing them to a temporary or permanent end, and start the clock ticking on other alternatives and letting the Iranians know that," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty's comments come just as the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a new report stating that the Iranian regime has more than doubled the number of centrifuges at its Fordow facility and that Iran had engaged in clean-up activities at its Parchin military complex that would hamper the IAEA's ability to investigate.
Also, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was previouslt believed to have been sidelined, is back at work on the Iranian nuclear program,The Wal Street Journal reported today.
The international community has limited visibility into Iran's actions, Pawlenty said. "We don't have the kind of sustained interaction with and relationship with Iran over the last 30 years. We are operating in an information-deprived environment in that regard," he said.
He also warned that Iran may have spread its nuclear research and production facilities into heavily populated civilian areas, which would make a military effort to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities much more expansive.
"A lot of the public discourse around how and whether and when there might be military action on Iran focuses on bunker-busting bombs and installations under mountains. That may not only be the only locations where they have those capabilities," said Pawlenty. "Imagine that it's not limited to mountains and rural areas. Imagine that they have created some redundant capabilities and placed them in tunnels under cities. If you want to identify and eliminate those capabilities, it takes on additional challenges."
Pawlenty said the Obama administration resisted imposing crippling sanctions over the last three years and that sanctions even now don't seem to be changing the Iranian regime's calculus.
"We don't know yet, but measured by the Iranians' posture and position, it's fair to say it hasn't yet worked," he said.
Pawlenty endorsed the idea floated by Romney advisor Elliott Abrams last week that now is the time for Congress to pass an authorization of the use of military force against Iran.
"As for me, I thought Elliott had a good idea. I don't know that it would be dispositive, but it couldn't hurt and it probably would help," he said.
In the end, even a military strike might not be effective in eliminating all of Iran's nuclear facilities, Pawlenty cautioned.
"I don't think anybody can say with certainty that if there were an attack on Iran it would have precisely predictable outcomes and consequences," he said. "I think you can increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes, but given the complexity of the situation I don't think you can give any guarantees."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.