The top U.S. military commander said Sunday he believed it would be "premature" to take military action against Iran in response to its nuclear program, as Britain urged Israel to give the diplomatic route a chance to succeed.
U.S. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program that economic sanctions have to be given a chance to work, and the United States and its allies should be better prepared for a military option.
"I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us," Dempsey said, according to excerpts of the interview released by CNN.
"I think that the economic sanctions and the international cooperation that we've been able to gather around sanctions is beginning to have an effect," he added.
In recent weeks, there has been feverish speculation that Israel was getting closer to mounting a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, but Israel has denied reaching such a decision.
Tensions between Iran and Israel have also been simmering with Iranian warships entering the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal in a show of "might", a move Israel said it would closely monitor.
The United States, other Western powers and Israel believe that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran denies the charge, insisting its atomic program is for purely peaceful purposes.
Iran said last week it was ready to resume stalled talks on its nuclear drive, prompting a cautious welcome from the United States and the European Union.
Dempsey said he believed that "diplomacy is having an effect" and suggested that even if the West opted for a military solution, it had to be better prepared for such a step.
"I mean, fundamentally, we have to be prepared," he said. "And that includes, for the most part, at this point, being prepared defensively."
Asked if Iranian leaders were acting rationally, the U.S. military commander said: "We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor. And it's for that reason, I think, that we think the current path we're on is the most prudent path at this point."
For his part, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday that Israel would not be "wise" to attack Iran over its disputed nuclear program, saying it should give the diplomatic route a chance to succeed.
Speaking in the wake of attacks on Israeli diplomats blamed on agents of Tehran, Hague said the Islamic republic "has increased in its willingness to contemplate utterly illegal activities in other parts of the world."
But he told BBC television: "I don't think the wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran.
"I think Israel, like everybody else in the world, should be giving a real chance to the approach that we have adopted, of very serious economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and the readiness to negotiate with Iran.
"And that's what we now have to make a success of."
Hague said the Israelis had not shared any plans of a preemptive strike on Iran with Britain, stressing: "We are not part of any planning to attack Iran.
"We don't take any options off the table ... But our approach is 100 percent diplomatically and economically focused to bring Iran successfully to the negotiating table."
"They have indicated in the last few days a new readiness to negotiate. Whether that is going to be on any meaningful basis, one has to be skeptical," Hague said.
Tensions between Israel and Iran flared following bombings in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok last week, but Iran angrily rejected accusations that it was behind the "terrorist" acts.
Hague declined to attribute blame for the attacks, but said Iran had "clearly" been involved in illegal activities abroad, adding: "This is part of the danger that Iran is currently presenting to the rest of the world."
On Saturday, Israel’s military chief of staff said his country will ultimately decree on an Iranian strike on its own, as a senior U.S. official arrived for talks on the Islamic Republic.
"Israel is the central guarantor of its own security; this is our role as army, the State of Israel should defend itself," Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told state-owned Channel One TV.
"We must follow the developments in Iran and its nuclear project, but in a very broad manner, taking into account what the world is doing, what Iran decided, what we will do or not do," he said.
A recent article in the Washington Post said that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thinks Israel may strike Iran's nuclear installations in the coming months.
Also on Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on the world to tighten sanctions on Iran before the country enters a "zone of immunity" against a physical attack to stop its nuclear program
Iran has been slapped with four sets of U.N. sanctions and a raft of unilateral U.S. and European Union measures over its nuclear drive.
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