Face the Nation: Sec. Panetta, 1.8.2012
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, let's talk a little bit about Iran. That is getting a lot of attention out on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney says we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. Ron Paul, at the other end says we just need to be nicer to them. We have put these big sanctions into place. And now the price of oil has shot up to over $100 a barrel again. It's pretty clear that we in the West are going to pay a price ourselves for having to impose these sanctions. Do you have any indication that that's beginning to work, that that's causing the Iranians to back off this idea of producing a nuclear weapon, if in fact, do you think that's what they're trying to do?
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: I think the international strategy here, and this really has been an international strategy to apply sanctions, to apply diplomatic pressure on them, to try to convince Iran that if, you know, they want to do what's right, they need to join the international family of nations and act in a responsible way. I think the pressure of the sanctions, I think the pressure of diplomatic pressures from everywhere -- Europe, United States, elsewhere-- is working to put pressure on them, to make them understand that they cannot continue to do what they're doing. Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Rick Santorum says we should already be making it known to them and the rest of the world that we're planning an attack to take out their nuclear facilities. And that we should let them know about that right now. What about a military reaction right now?
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Well, you don't take any option off the table. I think that's extremely important. Don't take any option off the table. But the responsible thing to do right now is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them to force them to do the right thing. And to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon.
BOB SCHIEFFER: General, how hard would it be to take out their nuclear capability, if in fact we decided to do that -- this is not just going in there and dropping one bomb on one building.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, I'd rather not discuss the degree of difficulty and in any way encourage them to read anything into that. But I will say that-- our-- my responsibility is to encourage the right degree of planning, to understand the risks associated with any kind of military option-- in some cases to position assets, to provide those options on-- in a timely fashion. And all those activities are going on.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Could we, if we had to, without using nuclear weapons ourselves, take out their nuclear capability?
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, I certainly want them to believe that that's the case.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, is it?
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: I absolutely want them to believe that that's the case.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. Secretary, would you like to add anything to that?
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: I think they need to know that-- that if they take that step -- that they're going to get stopped.
BOB SCHIEFFER: What about if they decide to block us off at the Straits of Hormuz?
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: We made very clear that the United States will not tolerate the blocking of the Straits of Hormuz. That's another red line for us and that we will respond to them.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And we would be able to-- could they actually, General, do they have the capability to actually block off that waterway, which is, of course, where all the oil to get it out of that part of the world comes through?
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: They've invested in capabilities that could, in fact, for a period of time block the Straits of Hormuz. We've invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that. And so the simple answer is yes, they can block it. Of course, that is as well a-- we've described that as an intolerable act. And it's not just intolerable for us, it's intolerable to the world. But we would take action and reopen the Straits.
BOB SCHIEFFER: A lot of people, Mr. Secretary, say, "We ought to just tell the Israelis quietly, 'Look, if you need to take out that nuclear capability in Iran, go ahead. That'll be fine with us.'" What would happen if Israel does decide to take this matter into its own hands and what would be our reaction and response to that?
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: I think I-- you know, our preference is that the international community, including Israel, ought to work together on this issue. We face -- we have common cause here. We're not interested in them developing a nuclear weapon. We are not interested in them proliferating violence throughout that region. We are not interested in them trying to assist in terrorism. We are not interested in them trying to destabilize governments in that region or any place else. We have common cause here. And the better approach is for us to work together. And not act--
BOB SCHIEFFER: But what if the Israelis did that?
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: If the Israelis made that decision, we would have to be prepared to protect our forces in that situation. And that's what we'd be concerned about.