By Elise Labott and Jill Dougherty
In seeking to avoid a military confrontation with Iran, the United States is navigating a myriad of potential landmines that has created a tense triangle between Iran, Israel and the U.S.
Most immediately, the United States is trying to make clear to Iran the consequences of closing the Strait of Hormuz, a key transit point for one-fifth of the world's oil.
Washington is doing everything to get its message across but send up smoke signals to warn Iran. In the absence of relations, the United States has used a variety of public statements and secret diplomatic backchannels to send a message to Iran that closing the Strait would be a red-line.
Even after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly warned Tehran against such a move last Thursday, threatening to "respond" if Iran attempts to shut down traffic, the U.S. also sent diplomatic messages through Switzerland - its protecting power in Iran - and through Iraqi President Jalal Talibani.
With reporting from Ivan Watson in Istanbul
An early warning radar station that is part of NATO's controversial missile defense system in Europe is now operational in Turkey, a foreign ministry spokesman said Monday.
The station is located in the city of Malatya, about 400 miles southeast of the capital Ankara, and is manned by both Turkish and U.S. personnel, the spokesman said.
Turkey is one of five countries that have agreed to deploy parts of the U.S.-designed defense system. Portugal, Poland, Romania and Spain have also agreed to participate.
NATO asked Russia to participate in the system but negotiations have been deadlocked over Russia's demand for a legally binding treaty guaranteeing the shield would not be used as a deterrent to Moscow's own systems. The United States and its European allies have insisted the system is directed toward countering ballistic missile threats from such Middle East countries as Iran.
Iran - Turkey's eastern neighbor - has publicly objected to the NATO system. Ali Larijani, Iran's speaker of parliament, repeated his opposition to it during a visit to Turkey last week.
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By Elise Labott
The U.S. used multiple means of reaching out to Iran in response to the threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, a critical transit point for one fifth of the world's oil.
Among those messages, Washington sent a rare letter to the Iranian government, delivered by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to Ambassador Mohammad Khazayee, Iran’s permanent representative at the UN, according to a U.S. official who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. The official would provide no further details
Iranian media quoted Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast who said Iran is studying the letter and "will respond if necessary."
In addition, as reported previously, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly warned Tehran against such a move last Thursday, threatening to “respond” if Iran attempts to shut down traffic. The US also sent diplomatic messages through Switzerland, its protecting power in the country and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani.
The messages came as tensions in the region continued to escalate. On Friday, the Navy and Coast Guard released video of two incidents on January 6th when Iranian boats came extremely close to U.S. vessels.
By Barbara Starr
Update: Perry repeated his accusation in Monday night's debate.
The quick response from the U.S. military and the Obama administration to condemn the Marines in that now infamous video has some, including a Republican presidential candidate, questioning if this was unfair to those involved.
The video of the four Marines urinating on bodies that may be Taliban fighters has resulted in a military investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the Marines.
"What is really disturbing to me is just, kind of, the over-the-top rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military," said Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry on CNN's State of the Union. "I mean, these kids made a mistake. There's not any doubt about it. They shouldn't have done it. It's bad. But to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top."
One Marine Corps colonel, a veteran of Iraq, condemned the act, but thought there were just too many statements of outrage from too many high ranking officials including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the commandant of the Marine Corps and the top commanders in Afghanistan and other high ranking administration officials.
"Young Marines have been doing stupid things forever, and they will keep doing them. Are we overreacting by having all these high level folks put out statements of outrage?" the colonel wondered. The colonel would only speak if no name was used.