Leading article: The route back to the negotiating table
By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor
A Pentagon unit is planning for a bombing attack on Iran which could be carried out "within 24 hours", according to a report in the United States, issued just as the Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad warned that Tehran's nuclear programme had "no reverse gear".
The generally authoritative New Yorker journalist, Seymour Hersh, reported in the latest edition of the weekly magazine that a "special planning group" had been set up in recent months under the joint chiefs of staff. Quoting a former intelligence official, Hersh said the unit was "charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the [US] President, within 24 hours".
The report appears to contradict the Bush administration's denials that it is planning for war on Iran, despite a US military build-up in the Gulf.
Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon's spokesman, said: "The US is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous."
But the American leader most identified with possible military action against Iran, Vice-President Dick Cheney, repeated in Australia last week that "all options" were on the table.
He arrived on a surprise visit last night in Oman, a Gulf state strategically located across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran.
The Iranian deputy foreign minister, Manouchehr Mohammadi, said yesterday: "We have prepared ourselves for any situation, even for war."
The Iranian President was also characteristically defiant on the eve of a meeting of UN Security Council powers called to discuss ratcheting up the pressure over Tehran's possible nuclear weapons programme.
President Ahmadinejad, who says the programme is peaceful, compared Iran's production of nuclear fuel to a train "which has no brake and no reverse gear".
The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, told an American television interviewer: "They don't need a reverse gear. They need a stop button."