Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that unless the U.S. and others draw a “red line” regarding Iran’s nuclear work, they will have no right to set a “red light” against possible Israeli action.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that Iran remains at least a year away from being able to make a nuclear weapon and the U.S. could strike “whenever we have to” in order to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
“We have the forces in place to be able to not only defend ourselves, but to do what we have to do to try to stop them from developing a nuclear weapon,” Panetta said on the CBS “This Morning” show.
Netanyahu spoke two days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio that the U.S. is “not setting deadlines” on negotiations with Iran. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that it’s “not useful” to set deadlines or “red lines.”
“The world tells Israel, wait, there’s still time, and I say, ‘Wait for what, wait until when?’” Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem today. “Those in the international community who refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have indicated that, as Iran proceeds with its nuclear work and negotiations stall, Israel is considering a strike against the country’s atomic facilities. While Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, Israel and the U.S. say the Islamic Republic is trying to build an atomic weapon. Iran’s leaders have rejected Israel’s right to exist.
“Netanyahu’s comments are a direct response to the Clinton remarks and those of other U.S. officials in recent weeks,” said Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “Netanyahu is either setting the stage for an Israeli strike if and when it takes place, or providing the U.S. administration with a rational for a much stronger position on Iran, in order to prevent such action.”
Panetta said today that the U.S. has “pretty good intelligence” about Iran’s nuclear activities and that it would take time for Iran to make a nuclear weapon “once they make a decision to do it.”
“It’s roughly about a year right now, a little more than a year,” he said. “We think we will have the opportunity, once we know that they’ve made that decision, to take the action necessary to stop it.”
Asked about the U.S. ability to strike Iran’s underground Fordo uranium-enrichment facility, Panetta said, “Without going into the particular capabilities we have, we think we’ve got the ability to be able to strike at them effectively if we have to.”
Clinton said economic sanctions are pressuring Iran and the U.S. still considers negotiations “by far the best approach.” Netanyahu said that “as of now, we can clearly say that diplomacy and sanctions have not worked. They have hit the Iranian economy, but they haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear project.”
While the U.S. and Israel share the goal that Iran not obtain an atomic weapon, Clinton said in the interview that there is a difference in perspective over the time horizon for talks. Nuland said at a State Department briefing yesterday that the U.S. is in close consultation with Israel and cited remarks by President Barack Obama that “unequivocally, we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
Gabi Ashkenazi, a former Israeli chief of staff, said Israel shouldn’t jeopardize ties with Washington.
“I strongly recommend that we preserve our strong relationship with the United States,” he said at a conference in Tel Aviv today. “Our strong bond is not only imperative to us from a security perspective, but also economically.”
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency reported last month that Iran raised the uranium-enrichment capacity at its underground Fordo facility and increased stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium, a step short of nuclear-bomb material.
The agency said at the time that it “is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
The Associated Press, citing unnamed diplomats, reported today that the Vienna-based IAEA has received new intelligence that Iran has moved further toward the ability to build a nuclear weapon by advancing its work on calculating the destructive power of an atomic warhead.
In the past week, Clinton has been to China and Russia, speaking with leaders of both nations to seek unity in their Iran stance. Afterward, she said China and Russia agree that Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia -- have conducted three rounds of talks with Iran since April. Even with pressure from new U.S. and European Union sanctions on energy, trade, banking and shipping, the discussions have failed to persuade Iran to suspend aspects of its atomic program.
Clinton has said that Iran, which depends on oil for more than half of its government revenue, is losing billions of dollars from lost oil sales due to sanctions.
Iranian oil exports dropped 66 percent in July from a year earlier, to less than 1 million barrels a day, as the U.S. and the EU tightened sanctions, according to a Sept. 5 report by Rhodium Group, citing customs data.
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