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As Nuclear Deadline Passes, U.S. and Iran Trade Accusations of Bombing Involvement

StoryFebruary 21, 2007
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The White House has dismissed a suggestion from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran would close its nuclear facilities as long as Western nations did the same. His comments came as a deadline set by the U.N. for Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program expires today. Meanwhile, Iran has accused the U.S. of backing a bomb attack that killed 11 Revolutionary Guards, just one week after the U.S. accused Iran of supplying bombs targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. We speak with retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday Iran would close its nuclear facilities as long as Western nations do the same. His offer comes as a deadline set by the U.N. for Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program expires today. Iran has maintained it’s not seeking nuclear weapons, saying its program is for purely peaceful ends.

Ahmadinejad’s comments come amid steadily increasing tension between Washington and Tehran. The U.S. military has increased its presence in the region, deploying a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. The White House has repeatedly denied any intention of attacking Iran, buy according to a Monday night report by the BBC, the U.S. military has drawn up contingency plans for massive airstrikes against Iran. The plans call for attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites, air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centers.

The U.S. government has already determined the two circumstances which would trigger just such an attack: One is evidence that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon; the second is a, quote, “high-casualty” attack against American forces in Iraq that could be traced directly to the leadership in Tehran. The Bush administration recently accused the top levels of the Iranian government of supplying sophisticated bombs to anti-U.S. forces in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Iranian government is accusing the United States and Britain of being involved in an attack last week that killed 11 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Sam Gardiner is a retired Air Force colonel. He has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, at the Air War College, at the Naval War College, joining me now on the phone from his home in Virginia. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Colonel Gardiner.

COL. SAM GARDINER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about these latest revelations of plans?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Sure. Actually, I find the BBC article to be completely credible. Let me take the two points that they make and explain why I think they are. The first thing is they talk about the trigger of a high casualty event in Iraq. That is totally consistent with the plans that were drawn up before the invasion of Iraq. We now know from the released plans, which at that time were classified “Top Secret, Polo Step,” that there was a series of triggers, that if they were to be pulled, the United States would go ahead of its plan in the invasion of Iraq. So, having a trigger is both in the way that the Pentagon does planning, and also it makes sense in the argument that the administration is making about what needs to be done with Iran.

The second thing about identifying a nuclear program is even more concerning and probably the one we ought to worry about. We have to remember that the president has said Iran can’t be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. But he has always — or not always — mostly adds a phrase beyond that, which says, “or the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons.” That’s a very important follow-on statement, consistent with what Israel has said. The way that is generally interpreted is that if Iran can put together 3,000 centrifuges for enrichment, they then will have the capability or the knowledge to produce a nuclear weapon. That event, according to the head of the IAEA yesterday, could occur within the next six months, so that if you take the president at his word, and if you take the estimate from the International Atomic Energy Agency, we will cross the U.S. red line within the next six months, and presumably we can’t stand that. And when we say that, that means we conduct a military operation against the Iranians.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Gardiner, you have been writing about these attacks inside Iran. You say if you haven’t been reading the foreign press, you might have missed two explosions this past week, one of them — and this was in Iran — killing 11 and injuring 31 members of the Revolutionary Guard. The other was near a school. Talk about these attacks.

COL. SAM GARDINER: The Iranians have said that those two attacks, which occurred in the Balochistan area, which is sort of, if you think of Iran, where the Afghan border, the Pakistani border and Iran come together, down in the far southeastern part. This has been an area of unrest for actually quite some time. It has been an area in which we have been reading from good journalists that the United States has been supporting operations to cause problems in that area. Sy Hersh has written about it. I think you have talked to him about it. Other reporters have written about the United States supporting the group called the MEK in that area.

Well, this is not the first time there have been explosions. What’s significant about the more recent ones is that the Iranians have chosen to make a big deal about it. They had a press conference and showed examples of weapons, just like the press conference that the United States held in Baghdad. There are pictures on the web of weapons that were captured. I have to say they look fake, but that almost doesn’t make any difference. The more important point is that the Iranians have upped the ante on the rhetoric, so that the situation now after this event is now beginning to take a two-side. I think the administration had hoped that by pressuring the Iranians, they would somehow back down, back away from their program, not be so aggressive. But, in fact, it seems to be having the opposite effect.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the 21,000 extra troops, what the president calls the “surge,” could actually be targeted at Iran as much as Iraq?

COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, let me modify that a little bit. We learned over the weekend that there is a surge within the surge. It is not 21,000 anymore. It’s gone above that. It was announced on maybe Friday evening or Saturday that an additional headquarters is going to Iraq, consisting of about a thousand additional people. Now, what’s fascinating about that is it was on the same day that the commander in Baghdad said, “I don’t need any more headquarters.” My interpretation of that is that this provides the capability, if the United States were to put some of these new forces into the border area with Iran, to take control of that. This is not meant, I don’t think, to invade Iran. I think that this is preparing for the possibility that if a strike is conducted against Iran, that these units could block any sort of an incursion into Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Sam Gardiner, we’re going to have to leave it there.


AMY GOODMAN: I thank you very much for being with us, retired Air Force colonel, teaching strategy at the various military colleges.

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