Iran could develop a nuclear bomb in about a year and create the means for delivery in a further two to three years, the US defense chief said Sunday, reiterating President Barack Obama's determination to halt the effort.
"The United States - and the president's made this clear - does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the CBS program "60 Minutes."
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"That's a red line for us. And it's a red line obviously for the Israelis so we share a common goal here."
Panetta maintained that US officials "will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it" if Washington receives intelligence that Iran is proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon.
Asked if that meant military action, he said: "There are no options that are off the table."
Panetta told the interviewer that "the consensus is that, if they (Iran) decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon."
In a report issued in November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said intelligence from more than 10 countries and its own sources "indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device."
It detailed 12 suspicious areas such as testing explosives in a steel container at a military base and studies on Shahab-3 ballistic missile warheads that the IAEA said were "highly relevant to a nuclear weapon program." Iran rejected the dossier as based on forgeries.
The Islamic Republic has come under unprecedented international pressure since the publication of the report, with Washington and the European Union targeting its oil sector and central bank.
In his State of the Union message Tuesday, Obama said a peaceful outcome was still possible with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, but he declined to rule out the military option.
"The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent," Obama said.
"Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal," the president declared, triggering a standing ovation.
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