(CNSNews.com) - A report over the weekend saying that the Pentagon is planning for potential military strikes against Iran brought the customary response from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She said the United States wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute but no options are off the table.
The fact that the Defense Department leaked the information is seen as significant, however.
Numerous analysts and commentators, including critics of the Bush administration's foreign policy, have suggested that the mission in Iraq has left Washington unable or unwilling to risk confronting Tehran.
The decision to leak confirmation of the military planning appears to be aimed at sending a signal to Iran -- and others -- that the U.S. is both willing and able.
London's Sunday Telegraph said the identification of bombing targets and logistical assessments for an operation against Iran were part of a plan being formulated as a "last resort" in case diplomatic attempts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons fail.
The planners were reporting to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office, said the paper, and it quoted an unnamed senior Pentagon advisor as saying: "This is more than just the standard military contingency assessment. This has taken on much greater urgency in recent months."
Earlier this month the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed to report Iran to the Security Council over nuclear non-compliance, but held off any possible action against Tehran until at least the IAEA's next meeting in March.
On Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped up the level of rhetoric aimed at the West over the nuclear row, threatening that Iran would revise its nuclear policies if its right to a nuclear program was violated.
"The nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic so far has been peaceful," he was quoted as saying. "Until now, we have worked inside the agency [the IAEA] and the NPT [Non-proliferation Treaty) regulations.
"If we see you want to violate the right of the Iranian people by using those regulations [against Iran], you should know that the Iranian people will revise its policies."
Iran earlier ended cooperation with the IAEA and said it would restart uranium enrichment. The latest pledge may be a threat to withdraw completely from the IAEA and the NPT.
In an interview with the conservative weekly Human Events, posted on its website Friday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said U.S. military action against Iran may be required if attempts to encourage peaceful regime change in Tehran in the next few years aren't successful.
"In my judgment, this goes back to the core question whether or not you believe that a religious fanatic with a nuclear weapon will do what he's openly saying he will do," he said.
"I believe this is such a high risk that it is utterly irrational for us not to have a strategy that says in the next two to three years this regime is going to be changed."
Gingrich compared the situation the international community now faces with that faced by Britain and U.S. vis-a-vis Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
The question was, would the U.S. today emulate Stanley Baldwin, the pre-war British prime minister criticized for pursuing appeasement with Hitler, or the wartime hero Winston Churchill.
"Our objective should be the systematic replacement of this [Iranian] regime," Gingrich said, calling for diplomatic and financial support for the "forces of independence" inside Iran.
If a peaceful transition to democracy was not successful, however, the U.S. may have to resort to force
"Here's a simple test question which I think every person should ask themselves: If one morning we lose several cities to nuclear weapons and you say to yourself, 'What is it I wish I had done the day before?' Wouldn't it be a lot better to do it?"
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