Iran is a year or more away from producing a nuclear bomb, US President Barack Obama said Saturday as Israel warned that within months Tehran could have enough fissile material to produce weapons.
Once that happens, Iran could be weeks away from producing a nuclear bomb, an Israeli official said on Saturday night.
Obama’s much more conservative estimate was made in an exclusive interview with the Associated Press.
“Our assessment continues to be a year or more away, and in fact, actually our estimate is probably more conservative than the estimates of Israeli intelligence services,” Obama said in response to a question about the American assessment on Iran’s timetable for nuclear weapons. His statements were widely picked up by the media, including Reuters and Israel’s Channel 2.
“We share a lot of intelligence with Israelis. I think Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu understandably is very skeptical about Iran.... If I were the prime minister of Israel, I would be very wary as well of any kind of talk from the Iranians,” Obama said.
Israeli diplomatic sources said in response to the interview that Israel and the US saw “eye to eye” on the necessity of preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons.
Obama spoke of a timetable for the production of a bomb. Israel, according to diplomatic sources, has focused on the Iranians’ ability to produce that bomb.
“This is the critical equation because once they have enough fissile material you can no longer stop them,” an Israeli official said.
Israeli diplomatic sources explained that Netanyahu was not opposed to a diplomatic solution but wanted to ensure that it would rid Iran of the ability to produce a nuclear bomb.
Obama’s interview with AP comes just after Netanyahu completed a week-long visit to the United States. He used that time to lobby the US and the international community at the UN General Assembly to hold fast to its demands that Iran dismantle its nuclear weapons facilities and remove enriched uranium from its territory.
Netanyahu spoke about Iran when he met with Obama in Washington on Monday last week, and it was the main topic of his address before the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
He also gave eight highprofile interviews to the US media on the topic, during which he slammed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and vowed that Israel would take action alone, if necessary, to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Upon landing back in Israel on Friday, Netanyahu said: “We are engaged in a comprehensive international struggle against the Iranian nuclear program. Next week I will meet with leaders of European countries and I will speak with other world leaders.
I will emphasize the fact that the sanctions on Iran can achieve the desired result if they are continued. The world must not be tempted by the Iranian stratagem into easing sanctions as long as the Iranians do not dismantle their military nuclear program.”
Netanyahu’s first public address since arriving back from New York will take place Sunday night, when he will speak during the opening of the 20th anniversary international conference of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. The conference is titled: “Israel Towards 2020: Perils and Prospects.”
The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on the content of the speech. But in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan that aired on Thursday night, Morgan asked Netanyahu: “If you get the evidence to your satisfaction, incontrovertibly that they have got that capability, is that your red line? Would you hesitate to take military action?” Netanyahu responded: “I wouldn’t hesitate at all.... But I hope it doesn’t come to that because we prefer a peaceful solution. We prefer diplomacy.
Anybody in his right mind would, except you want a real solution. You don’t want to be duped.”
Netanyahu said that Obama was doing the best he could for the US, but the prime minister warned that Iran must dismantle its nuclear weapons program before any sanctions were repealed.
Morgan asked him if he would take a phone call from Rouhani, should the Iranian president call him.
Netanyahu responded that the issue was not diplomacy but the verifiable dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program.
“Military action is not a goal; it’s a means,” he told CNN.
In an interview that also aired Thursday night, Netanyahu told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that even as Iran was talking with the West, it continued to work on the production of nuclear weapons.
“As the Iranian president is talking nicely to you, they’re developing the weapons and the vehicles to strike the United States. They have to stop that. They have to dismantle their program, dismantle their nuclear weapons program.
Now, that’s not what they’re offering. They’re offering something entirely different.
And I don’t think we should be hoodwinked.”
He broke down his expectations from the US and the international community into a three-word mantra: “distrust, dismantle and verify.”
Netanyahu said he delivered this message privately to Obama in the midst of the American government shutdown.
“The shutdown we’re looking for is a shutdown of Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said.
He warned against a partial deal with Tehran that would leave Iran with enough uranium to build a nuclear bomb.
“It’s got to be a complete, complete dismantling; no partial deals,” he said.
Sanctions should only be eased once that has happened, he said, noting that it took years to put the sanctions in place.
“You’ve got them on the ropes. That economy is about to collapse. You know, you want to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully? Keep up the sanctions and go for the full deal and nothing short of it, no partial deals, no enrichment,” Netanyahu said.
“I don’t seek a military solution. I’d be the happiest person alive if we could actually get a real dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program diplomatically, but it has to be real,” Netanyahu said.
He warned that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons it would lead to “nuclear terrorism galore.” Historically, he said, the Jewish and Iranian people had a long history of friendship that was ended with the 1979 Iranian revolution.
“Now they’re trying to develop nuclear weapons to eradicate Israel and to dominate with their crazy creed around the world,” Netanyahu said.
Reuters contributed to this report.