By JULIAN E. BARNESWASHINGTON
A bipartisan group of ambassadors, retired generals and foreign policy experts iswarning against a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities without a more thorough publicdiscussion to weigh the costs and benefits.In a paper and letter to be released Thursday, the group argues that an attack could delay Iran'sdevelopment of a nuclear weapon for up to four years, but would have other consequences, such asrallying the Iranian people behind the current regime and solidifying the government's hold on power.The group, which includes retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former National Security advisor BrentScowcroft and former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who served in Republicanadministrations, doesn't oppose military action across the board. But members argue that the countryneeds a more thorough debate about the consequences of an attack on Iran."Big national security decisions are not easy to make," said veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering, a formerambassador to the United Nations, who helped organize the group. "As you go ahead we think thenational debate of the issue should be well informed... people should understand it is not a slam dunk,these are very hard issues."In an interview, Mr. Pickering said if it turns out that the U.S. or Israel struck Iran's nuclear facilitiesbefore Tehran had decided to build a nuclear weapon, any Iranian opposition to building a nuclearweapon in Iran could evaporate.But the paper doesn't rule out the need for any military involvement, and Mr. Pickering said it arguesthat a strike may be required if Tehran moves to build a weapon.An attack could deter nuclear proliferation by other countries and demonstrate American commitmentto protecting its allies in the Middle East, the group believes. The paper also argues that any strike islikely to damage Iran's military capabilities. But it concludes that a strike wouldn't destabilize theregime.