U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta AFP/Paul J. Richards

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cautioned the Obama administration this week about engaging in endless negotiations with Iran, stating that “we may very well have to use military force” to stop Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear arms.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, Panetta, who also served as director of the CIA until 2011, warned that Iranian nuclear negotiators may not be able to even deliver on a deal and that, in the end, military force may be the only tactic to stop Tehran’s nuclear pursuit.

“We must remain strong, we must remain consistent that they [Iran] must never, never be able to develop a nuclear weapon, and that we may very well have to use military force to back up our policy,” Panetta said on Thursday during an address at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) centennial meeting in New York City.

While it is worth negotiating with Iran for a time, these talks should not drag on forever, Panetta said.

“I think we clearly should negotiate to determine whether they’re serious about dealing with their nuclear capability,” he said. “But we have to maintain a healthy skepticism.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, holds “the key” to a nuclear deal, not the country’s negotiating team, Panetta said.

“It is the supreme leader that is the key,” he said. “The supreme leader. And they are not likely to agree to give up” their right to enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear arm, he emphasized.

Panetta also praised Western economic sanctions on Iran, a new round of which has been opposed by the Obama administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“We have implemented unprecedented sanctions and pressure on Iran, uniting the world against their nuclear ambition and making clear that they must not close the straits of Hormuz, and not develop a nuclear weapon,” Panetta said.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed new sanctions hitting Iran’s oil industry.

However, while some American lawmakers have pushed for a speedy escalation of sanctions against the Islamic Republic, the White House is urging Senators to hold off while multilateral talks on Iran’s nuclear program continue.

At the last meeting a few weeks ago between Iran and the P5+1, Iran presented what it described as a breakthrough proposal that would include snap inspections of its atomic sites.

President Barack Obama has welcomed the moderate statements made by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and has said he wants to test their sincerity.