Print article Email article
Iran leader slams Obama's threat
Landmark nuclear treaty signed
kalahari.netHillary Clinton: Her Way
An explosive, landmark biography of Hillary Clinton by the world's top investigative reporters Was R159.95 Now R135.96
Washington - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday the United States could not rule out using nuclear weapons if it came under biological attack, saying in that case "all bets are off".
Both Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in joint television interviews that Iran and North Korea represented exceptions to the limits on a US nuclear response, as both have defied UN resolutions on their atomic programmes.
"We leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies," Clinton said.
"If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off," Clinton said in an interview with CBS's Face the Nation.
Clinton was referring to a new US nuclear policy unveiled last week that restricts the use of atomic weapons against non-nuclear states that comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Asked why Iran and North Korea were considered exceptions, Gates said: "Well, because they're not in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. So for them, all bets are off. All the options are on the table."
Clinton and Gates said a new arms control deal with Russia and the revised nuclear policy would bolster President Barack Obama's diplomatic leverage as he seeks to isolate Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programmes.
Both cabinet officers rejected criticism from some Republicans in Congress that Obama's approach had sent a signal of weakness, and that cuts to the nuclear arms stockpile undermined US "deterrence".
"We have still a very powerful nuclear arsenal," Gates told NBC's Meet the Press.
Obama's nuclear policy "sets forth a process by which we will be able to modernise our nuclear stockpile to make it more reliable: safer and more secure and effective," he said.
Apart from nuclear weapons, the US military was building up missile defence systems and investing in long-range missiles armed with conventional warheads - known as "prompt global strike", Gates said.
"We have in addition to the nuclear deterrent today, a couple of things we didn't have in the Soviet days," he said.