Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday vowed that the United States would take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if diplomacy fails.
"Military action is the last alternative when all else fails," he told the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest U.S. pro-Israel lobbying group. "But make no mistake, when all else fails, we will act."
Panetta, a former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, ticked off several examples of Obama's willingness to use force to support U.S. national security interests, including having sent Special Operations forces hundreds of miles into Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.
"As the President has made clear, the United States does not bluff," Panetta said. "In this town, it's easy to talk tough. Acting tough is a hell of a lot more important."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Obama on Monday at the White House that Israel has not taken any decision on attacking Iran's nuclear sites, sources close to the talks said, though Netanyahu gave no sign of backing away from possible military action.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday that six world powers have accepted an Iranian offer for talks on its disputed nuclear program after a year's standstill that has increased fears of a slide into a new Middle East war.
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