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. Nuclear armed Iran raises risk of major Mideast war: Gates
WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (AFP) Oct 18, 2007
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would set off a regional arms race and raise the risk of a major Mideast war "with who knows what consequences."

Gates' remarks at a Pentagon news conference came in response to questions about a warning by President George W. Bush on Wednesday that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons to avoid a "World War III."

"If Iran acquires nuclear weapons it seems very probable that there will be other states in the region that will decide for their own protection they will have to obtain nuclear weapons as well," Gates said.

"So you would very likely have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."

As weapons or nuclear material became more widely available "the risk of an accident or a miscalculation, or those weapons or materials falling into the hands of terrorists, would be substantially increased," he said.

"And in that context the risk of a major war in the Middle East with who knows what consequences comes on to the radar screen," he said.

Moreover, he said statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel ought to be "wiped off the map" gave the Washington little confidence that Tehran would handle possession of nuclear weapons responsibly.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was "huge and growing concern about Iran and where it is headed."

He said the United States was pursuing a diplomatic strategy with Iran and that he considered "the military operation one of the last resort."

"From a military standpoint there is more than enough reserve to respond if that in fact is what the national leadership wanted to do," he said. "And so I don't think we are too stretched in that regard."

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