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Leon Panetta
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Panetta hopes 'Gantz is right about Iran'
US secretary of defense expresses hope IDF chief's assessment suggesting Tehran has yet to decide whether to truly pursue nuclear weapons 'is correct'

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday that he hopes that statements from Israel's military chief describing Iran's leadership as rational were "correct."

 

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Wednesday that the Iranian leadership "is composed of very rational people," and that while Tehran was reaching the point at which it could decide to build a nuclear bomb, the leaders had not yet decided whether to proceed.

 

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Gantz made similar remarks in an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, saying that he did not believe Tehran would use its nuclear technology to build a nuclear weapon.

 

Referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Gantz said that he probably realizes that build a nuclear bomb would be “a mistake, and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile” beyond developing nuclear capability, at least at this point.

 

However, as rational as Iran may be, Gantz said, fundamentalist Islam has a way of making people do some very irrational things. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”

 

"I would hope he's correct and he knows something more that I do," Panetta said during a visit to Chile.

 

"I do not have any specific information that indicates (the Iranians) have made any decision one way or another" on whether to build a nuclear weapon, Panetta told reporters after meeting his Chilean counterpart Andres Allamand.

 

Neither Israel nor the United States currently believe that Tehran has actually taken the decision to develop a nuclear bomb, a decision that would require the ability to quickly produce weapons-grade uranium.

 

"I would like to hope… that because of the leadership of the United States, the international community and the leadership of Israel, they can make the right decision," Panetta said.

 

Israel and much of the West suspect Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for a weapons drive – a charge Tehran denies. Israeli officials have refused to rule out a pre-emptive strike on its chief foe's nuclear facilities.

 

Panetta began his first Latin America tour Monday in Colombia, and then visited Brazil in a bid to boost military cooperation and regional security ties.

 

Reuters and Yitzhak Benhorin, in Washington, contributed to this report

 

 

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