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Senators: Military last option on Iran

Lawmakers stress gravity of nuclear standoff, push sanctions

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. lawmakers say there must be major and immediate diplomatic action on Iran's nuclear activities, and that the option of military action cannot be taken off the table.

"This is the most grave situation that we have faced since the end of the Cold War, absent the whole war on terror," Sen. John McCain told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday

"The Iranians showed their face when their president came to the U.N. and advocated the eradication of the state of Israel from the earth," said the Arizona Republican.

"We must go to the U.N. now for sanctions." (Watch nuclear concerns over Iran -- 2:41)

The United States and the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- want the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to meet soon and turn the issue over to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

All but Germany are permanent members of the Security Council and hold veto power, and they all favor U.N. Security Council action following Tehran's resumption of nuclear activities.

The group is scheduled to meet Monday in London with representatives of Russia and China to work out how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern that Russia and China -- which have close economic ties with Iran -- may veto any sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he does not believe Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

McCain told CBS that if Russia and China "for reasons that would be abominable" opt not to support sanctions, "then we would have to go with the willing" -- meaning an international agreement to impose sanctions even if the move is not supported by the Security Council.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, told "Fox News Sunday" that the United States should work to win over those two nations.

"If we're going to put an economic stranglehold on Iran, which we should be doing -- it's preferable to military, any military option, and maybe more effective -- we need the Russians and Chinese.

"They need stuff from us. They need trade. They need all kinds of assistance. We ought to play hardball with them," he said. "And if President Bush were to do that, either publicly or privately, I think he'd get broad bipartisan backing."

Iran has long said it uses its nuclear facilities for peaceful means and has reacted strongly to threats to refer it to the U.N. body. On Sunday Tehran threatened to manipulate world oil prices if sanctions are imposed, a comment that resulted in a quick response from the Americans.

"If the price of oil has to go up, then that's a consequence we would have to suffer," said McCain.

McCain, widely seen as a likely 2008 Republican presidential candidate, added that war is not out of the question.

"There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option; that is a nuclear-armed Iran," he said. "The military option is the last option but cannot be taken off of the table."

California Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, told the same program that she agrees with McCain's assessment of the extent of Iran's threat.

"Iran has much more opportunity to create devastation in the Middle East than Iraq at this time," she said. "I think it's a very serious threat."

"This new president of Iran is very difficult to predict. He clearly holds very radical and fanatic views with -- certainly with respect to Israel," she said. "I don't think it's a stretch to say that, if the Iranians had a nuclear missile, that this president might well use it against Israel."

She called the issue "the major test of the international community."

Asked whether she could envision a scenario in which the United States would take military action, she said, "I certainly can't say right now. As people have wanted to say, every option should be on the table."

She emphasized that the international community must be "unified, forceful and dramatic in its diplomacy."

On CNN's "Late Edition," Sen. Evan Bayh referred to the "radical, almost delusional nature of the Iranian regime" and recent comments of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Holocaust is a "myth." (Full story)

"To deny history like this, this virulent anti-Semitism, their sponsoring of terrorism, their search for a nuclear weapon -- ought to be a wake-up call to every American. Appeasement won't work," said the Indiana Democrat.

"We need to use diplomacy, economic sanctions, other means, so we won't have to resort to military action."

Bayh, a possible Democratic presidential candidate, said the Bush administration had "ignored" the Iranian issue since it took office, and "It's brought us to the position that we're in today."

White House spokesman David Almacy took issue with Bayh, telling CNN that Washington "has been leading the way to confront the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. To suggest otherwise ignores reality."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said the administration has been working with European countries in hopes of convincing Iran "to act reasonably."

"It is a serious problem -- probably right now the most serious in the world," Lott said.

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