Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Iran would be on the brink of nuclear weapons capability in six to seven months, insisting that there must be “red lines” on halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a stance the United States has rejected.
Taking his case to the American public, Netanyahu said in U.S. television interviews that by mid-2013, Iran would be 90 percent of the way toward enough enriched uranium for a bomb. He urged the United States to spell out limits that Tehran must not cross or else face military action - something Obama has refused to do.
“You have to place that red line before them now, before it’s too late,” Netanyahu told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, saying that such a U.S. move could reduce the chances of having to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.
The unusually public dispute - coupled with Obama’s decision not to meet with Netanyahu later this month - has exposed a deep U.S.-Israeli divide and stepped up pressure on the U.S. leader in the final stretch of a tight presidential election campaign.
Israel has consistently said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state and has wielded the threat of military action, but Washington favors tough sanctions and diplomatic arm twisting.
Israel and major Western states believe Tehran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for building atomic weapons capability, a charge the Iranians have repeatedly denied.
With relations between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama already viewed as frosty, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday highlighted the policy split further when he rejected Israel’s demand for so-called “red lines.”
“The fact is, look, presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country -- leaders of these countries don’t have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions,” Panetta said.
“What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation,” he told Foreign Policy magazine in an interview.
“I mean, that’s the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner.”
To CNN and in a second interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” -- both aired Sunday -- Netanyahu maintained that telling Iran there is a definite point it cannot cross would serve as a pre-emptive and effective deterrent.
“There wasn’t such a red line before Saddam Hussein, on the eve of the Gulf War, when he invaded Kuwait, maybe that war could have been avoided,” Netanyahu told CNN.
“As Iran gets closer and closer to its completion of its nuclear program, I think it’s important to put a red line before them and that’s something we should discuss with the United States,” he added.