LONDON— Iran may be capable of developing a nuclear weapon by next year, Britain's defense secretary told lawmakers on Monday.

Liam Fox told the House of Commons he disagreed with Israel's newly retired spy chief, Meir Dagan, who said this month that Iran would not be able to build a nuclear bomb before 2015.

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Fox said the West should be wary of optimism over Iran's nuclear program and make decisions on the basis of the most pessimistic assessment of its capability.

His remarks follow the failure of the US, Britain, France and Germany, Russia and China in talks earlier this month to persuade Iran to open its atomic program to more scrutiny.

Teheran claims its nuclear program is limited to developing civilian power. The US and allies insist Iran is working on the covert development of nuclear weapons.

"We know from previous experience, not least from what happened in North Korea, that the international community can be caught out, assuming that things are more rosy than they are," Fox told lawmakers. "We should therefore be entirely clear. It is entirely possible that Iran may be on the 2012 end of that spectrum."

Fox said that the West should act "in accordance with that warning."

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