Lt. Gen. Stephen P. Mueller welcomes Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Friday, Feb. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said 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 U.S. 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 norms.
"If they don't, we have all options on the table and would be prepared to respond if we have to," he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta won't dispute a report that he believes Israel may attack Iran this spring in an attempt to set back the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
On Thursday, 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 U.S. has "indicated our concerns."
Panetta was at Ramstein Air Base Friday to visit troops after attending NATO meetings in Brussels. Later Friday, he was heading to Munich to attend an international security conference Saturday where Iran was certain to be among the topics discussed.
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