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Carter Says Iran Nuclear Deal Would Not Limit US Military Options

Ashton Carter at the Pentagon. DoD photo by R. D. Ward
Ashton Carter at the Pentagon. DoD photo by R. D. Ward

The U.S. will reserve the right to use military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon even if a deal is reached Iran's nuclear program, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday.

"The military option certainly will remain on the table," Carter said as negotiators in Lausanne, Switzerland, struggled to reach an agreement ahead of a March 31 deadline.

"One of my jobs is to make sure all options are on the table,' Carter said in remarks at Syracuse University and earlier on NBC's "Today" program.

An agreement "can't be based on trust, it has to be based on verification," Carter said. "I do not know how that will come out," he said, but an agreement must be "one that keeps us and the region safe. If it's a good agreement to have, obviously it's one worth waiting for."

However, Carter stressed that an Iran agreement would only be one "piece of an overall mosaic" of U.S. security interests in the Mideast, which he described as a "confusing, crazy-quilt region" wracked by turmoil in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

In Yemen, Carter said that the U.S. would continue to pursue counter-terror operations against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) no matter the outcome of the nuclear talks with Iran.

In Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry and negotiators from Germany, Britain, Russia, France and China were attempting to reach agreement with Iran on a framework deal by a midnight Tuesday deadline (6 p.m. EDT). State Department officials said that the deadline might be extended to Wednesday, Reuters reported.

If the preliminary agreement is reached, that would set the clock ticking on a June 30 deadline for a final deal that would set out the specifics on inspections and the pace for lifting economic sanctions.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that Israel may not feel bound by an agreement worked out in Lausanne.

"The biggest threat to our security and future was and remains Iran's attempt to arm with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said at the opening of the Knesset (parliament). "The agreement being put together at Lausanne is paving the way for that result."

A framework deal could also face potential rejection by Congress. Following a meeting in Israel with Netanyahu on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that he and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, were backing a bill that would require President Obama to submit an Iran deal to Congress for approval.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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Iran Department of Defense Nuclear Weapons Richard Sisk

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