Seymour Hersh writes in the April 17 issue of The New Yorker, that members of the U.S. military, more and more, believe President Bush is leaning toward a "regime change" in Iran as the best way to quell the country's quest for nuclear capabilities. Hersh writes that the Bush administration has "increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack," including the use of nuclear, bunker-busting bombs.
The New Yorker article quotes one former senior intelligence official as saying that Mr. Bush views Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a "potential Adolph Hitler."
The Washington Post article, written by Peter Baker, Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks, says that officials are looking at air strikes and bombing campaigns, but not a land invasion.
"Surely, the reports will spur debate about U.S. military action against Iran, particularly since U.S.-Iran talks regarding Iraq are tentatively scheduled for mid-April and because U.S. military action would be opposed by most world leaders," CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk says.
The Post reports possible targets for a U.S. attack on Iran include facilities where uranium enrichment plant and a uranium conversion take place, according to current and former officials with the Pentagon and CIA.
Iranian officials, according to the Post, have already begun reinforcing key sites "by building concrete ceilings, tunneling into mountains and camouflaging facilities."
Hersh identifies the same targets in The New Yorker and says some inside the Pentagon have proposed using tactical nuclear weapons to penetrate the increased defenses. But, Hersch also writes, "The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Senior administration officials are calling the New Yorker article "ill-informed," reports CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante. The White House insists it is pursuing diplomatic solutions with Iran and a military strike is the last option.
Iran's president says dismisses the reports as tools of "psychological warfare" from enemies who do not want his country to develop. "Through these acts of misinformation, they want to get concessions from us," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said through the Iranian state media agency.
"Our nation will respond the enemies and the mischievous ones resolutely," he warned.
Despite accusations about weapons development, Iran has said its nuclear research is for civilian purposes only.
But, Iran has not fully cooperated with international nuclear controls. In February, Iran barred surprise International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities after the nuclear agency referred it to the U.N. Security Council in response to the resumption of work at Natanz. But Tehran continued allowing normal inspections under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
More than three years of IAEA probing have failed to produce concrete evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons program. But the agency discovered suspicious activity, including plutonium experiments and long-secret efforts to develop enriched uranium.
The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment of uranium – a key process that can produce either fuel for a reactor or the material for a nuclear warhead – and gave Tehran until April 28 to comply before the IAEA reports back to the council on its progress.
"The U.N. in late March gave Iran one month and asked the international watchdog agency to report back on Iran's compliance on freezing its nuclear program, but according to the Hersh report, the White House has increased its military planning for possible attacks against Iran and has not ruled out using tactical bunker-busting nuclear weapons, in the event negotiations fail," Falk says.
But, the American strike plans do not appear to have international support. Jack Straw, the British foreign minister, called the plans "completely nuts" in a Sunday interview with the BBC.
"We can't be certain about Iran's intentions and that is therefore not a basis for which anybody would gain authority to go to military action," he said.
The Washington Post, however, reports that Britain – Washington's closest ally in the War on Terror – is already planning for a potential U.S. strike. The British government is studying security options for its citizens, embassy and consular offices in Iran, according to the report, but "their government is unlikely to participate directly in any attacks."
"The unity of the world powers at the United Nations ends with a stern warning, mainly because Russia and China have made no bones about opposing sanctions or harsher action," Falk says, "leaving the Bush administration planning for a coalition of countries to impose sanctions and, according to the Hersh report, military action."