U.S. Vice President Biden says Iran sanctions likely late this month

U.S. rules out force, Khamenei rejects ‘American’ hegemony

Washington says planning for all possible scenarios

Turkey speaks of progress on mediation with Iran

U.S. report: Iran might be able attack America in 2015

The U.S. has ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program any time soon, hoping instead negotiations and United Nations sanctions will prevent the Middle East nation from developing nuclear weapons, a top U.S. defense department official said Wednesday.

"Military force is an option of last resort," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said during a press briefing in Singapore. "It's off the table in the near term."

The U.S. and its allies fear Tehran is using its nuclear program to build arms. Iran denies the charges, and says its program only aims to generate electricity.

"Right now the focus is a combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions," Flournoy said. "We have not seen Iran engage productively in response."

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted Wednesday by Iran's state media saying the country won't give in to U.S. pressure. Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard is preparing to hold large-scale military maneuvers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

"We've said time and again that we are not after weapons of mass destruction but the Iranian nation won't give in to such threats and will bring those threatening it to their knees," Khamenei said.

Iran has rejected a 2009 U.N.-backed plan that offered nuclear fuel rods to Tehran in exchange for Iran's stock of lower-level enriched uranium. The swap would curb Tehran's capacity to make a nuclear bomb.

But Iran has proposed variations on the deal, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday that a fuel agreement could be a chance to boost trust with the West.

Earlier this week, he said Iran wants direct talks about the deal with all the U.N. Security Council members, except one with which it would have indirect talks - a reference to the United States, which with Tehran has no relations.

The U.S. is lobbying heavily in the Security Council for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday he expects new U.N. sanctions on Iran by late April or early May and dismissed the notion that Israel might attack the Islamic Republic before first allowing sanctions to take their course.

Biden issued the latest U.S. warning to Iran, which is locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program, in an appearance on ABC television's "The View" talk show.

"Everyone from the Israeli prime minister straight through to the British prime minister to the president of Russia, everyone agrees the next step we should take is the U.N. sanction route," Biden said.

"I believe you will see a sanction regime coming out by the end of this month, beginning of next month," he said.

Asked whether Washington was concerned that Israel might attack its arch-foe Iran without U.S. consultation, Biden said, "They're not going to do that."

He said Israel had agreed to await the outcome of tightened sanctions against Iran, an effort being led by President Barack Obama.

"They've agreed the next step is the step we -- the president of the United States -- have initiated in conjunction with European powers, the NATO powers," he said.

Israel, the only assumed nuclear weapons power in the Middle East, has made clear it is keeping open the military option against Iran even as Washington proceeds on the dual diplomatic and sanctions track.

Biden reiterated the administration's view that China, one of five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council, would support new sanctions on Iran. Beijing has softened its resistance to new measures but has been reluctant to accept punitive steps as severe as Washington wants.

"We're going to continue to keep the pressure on Iran," Biden said.

The West accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran says it only wants peaceful civilian nuclear power.

The US State Department Tuesday hailed Turkey's efforts to mediate the nuclear standoff with Tehran, but expressed renewed skepticism about Iran's willingness to engage in talks.

"I'll only say in order to play a mediation role, you have to have a country like Iran that is actually willing to engage seriously, and that's what's been lacking over the past several months," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier Tuesday that diplomacy remains the best way to resolve the row over Iran's atomic program and that Ankara is ready to mediate between Tehran and world powers.

"Turkey is ready to act as an intermediary in the issue of uranium exchange as a third country and hopes to have a fruitful role in this," Davutoglu said at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Manoucher Mottaki.

Crowley said that the United States recognizes "that the future of Iran as part of the region is vitally important to Turkey, just as it is vitally important for the US and other countries in the region," and that Turkey can "of course" play a constructive role in the mediation process.

Turkey, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, has consistently resisted a US push for new sanctions against Iran in response to its nuclear program.

Riki Ellison, Founder and Chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), has made some comments on the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing held on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The purpose of the hearing was to receive testimony on ballistic missile defense policies and programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2011.

Ellison is one of the foremost lay experts in the field of missile defense. Ellison's comments include the following statements:

"Over the past week, Congress held three public hearings on missile defense plans for 2011 and beyond. Hearings were held by the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate Armed Service Committee led by Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and the Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) on Tuesday and most recently the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee led by the Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) on Wednesday.

"During these hearings, the testimony of President Barack Obama's appointees in the Department of Defense and the Director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, exposed five fundamental elements of the administration's missile defense plan:

1. Iran, with foreign assistance (North Korea), could have the ability to strike the U.S. homeland with an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by 2015.

2. In the current administration's plan, the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), there will be a second shot capability based in Europe to defend the U.S. homeland from an Iranian ICBM in 2020. This is dependent on the development, testing and deployment, of a new SM-3 Block 2B missile and the integration that allows for early intercept by launch and engage on remote sensors including basing Aegis Ashore platforms in Europe.

3. The administration's current missile defense plan for the defense of the U.S. homeland is to rely on 30 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI's), 26 based in Alaska and 4 in California until 2032. They would provide protection against a maximum of 15 incoming ICBMs, using two GBIs per ICBM with a shoot, look, and shoot doctrine. Due to distance, parts of Eastern United States will not have the same confidence of protection as the remaining U.S. Homeland from an ICBM threat from Iran.

4. There is a gap of protection and vulnerability against an ICBM launched from Iran at the U.S. homeland, especially to significant parts of the east coast, for a minimum of 5 years in the President's plan for missile defense, provided that Iran acquires ICBM capability by 2015.

5. In regards to a hedge for the existent gap in protection from an ICBM attack from Iran against the U.S. homeland, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly presented three options:

• Fully outfitting missile field 2 in Fort Greely, Alaska with GBIs adding 8 more GBIs to the existing 30 GBIs,

• Testing the two-stage GBI, the missile in June of this year, the same missile system intended to be deployed in Poland for the canceled 3rd site of the previous administration.

• Having additional shot opportunities, against an ICBM from Iran, with two-stage missiles.

"The recent Congressional hearings on missile defense have made it abundantly clear to the American public that a gap exists in the missile protection of the U.S. homeland against Iran. It is also apparent that the administration's plans to develop and deploy a hedge to fill that gap have not adequately been addressed. The administration needs to move forward with urgency for a robust testing and deployment plan of the two-stage GBI on or before 2015 to ensure full protection of the U.S. homeland from Iran.

"The protection of the U.S. homeland from ballistic missiles is the declared and stated number one priority of President Obama's administration missile defense policy."