Pressure must stay on Iran: Leon Panetta

If Iran does not change course, the US is "prepared to respond if we have to", Panetta said.

Ramstein Air Base (Germany): US Defence
Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday the key to stopping Iran
from getting a nuclear bomb is keeping global support for
tough economic sanctions.

Speaking to US airmen in Germany, Panetta reiterated that
if Iran does not change course, the US is "prepared to respond
if we have to."

Panetta was responding to an airman who asked at what
point the United States would get involved in Israel`s
potential conflict with Iran.

Panetta sidestepped that aspect of the Iran issue and
focused on international efforts to persuade Iran to not build
the bomb.

He reiterated that all US options are on the table,
implying the possibility of using military force.

"My view is that right now the most important thing is to
keep the international community unified," Panetta said, "so
we`re keeping that pressure on to convince Iran that they
shouldn`t develop a nuclear weapon, that they should join the
international family of nations" and abide by international

"If they don`t, we have all options on the table and would
be prepared to respond if we have to," he said.

Panetta has not disputed a report that he believes Israel
may attack Iran this spring in an attempt to set back the
Islamic republic`s nuclear programme.

Yesterday, Panetta was asked by reporters to comment on a
Washington Post opinion column by David Ignatius that said the
secretary believes there is a "strong likelihood" that Israel
will attack Iran in April, May or June. Ignatius did not say
who told him this.

Asked whether he disputes the report, Panetta said, "No,
I`m just not commenting."

He added, "What I think and what I view, I consider that
to be an area that belongs to me and nobody else."

Panetta noted that Israel has stated publicly that it is
considering military action against Iran. He said the US has
"indicated our concerns."

Panetta was at Ramstein Air Base today to visit troops
after attending NATO meetings in Brussels. Later today, he was
heading to Munich to attend an international security
conference tomorrow where Iran was certain to be among the
topics discussed.