Panetta: US Would Stop Iran From Getting a Nuke [View all]
December 20, 2011
Stars and Stripes|by Chris Carroll
WASHINGTON -- If the United States learns that Iran is putting together a nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised "we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it."
In an interview with CBS News that aired Monday, Panetta that should Iran decide to move ahead, it could build a nuclear weapon within a year. But if the country -- under international sanctions for years because of its nuclear program -- possesses fuel enrichment facilities unknown to the United States, he said, a nuke could be forthcoming sooner than expected.
Other than the effect a wild-card secret facility might have on the timeline, Panetta's estimate on when Iran could develop a nuclear weapon is not out of line with earlier statements by him or his predecessor. In June 2010, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Iran was one to three years away from being able to build a nuclear weapon. As CIA director, Panetta said last year the country was perhaps two years away.
In early December, Panetta said a strike against Iran could have severe consequences, and warned Israel, Iran's most powerful regional adversary, against unilateral action. Such a strike could set back Iran's program by a year or two at best, he said.