U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says analysts believe that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within about one year if Tehran decided to do so.
Speaking on the CBS “60 Minutes” program broadcast on January 29, Panetta said it would probably take Iran another two to three years to produce a missile or other vehicle that could deliver the weapon to a target.
Panetta's comments came while a team of inspectors from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is at work in Iran.
Panetta reiterated that the United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. He called this a “red line” for both the U.S. and its ally Israel.
"If they proceed and we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop them," he said.
Iran's leadership denies any effort to make a nuclear weapon.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he was "optimistic" about the mission, which is due to be in Iran until January 31.
"Of course I do not mean that a miracle will happen overnight," Salehi added, "but you know a long journey starts with the first step."
He added that inspectors would be allowed to visit any site in Iran that they wished.
On January 29, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said the IAEA's visit is a "test" for the agency, adding that Iran would cooperate if the IAEA acted "professionally" and not as "a tool of the West."
An IAEA report in November said some aspects of the Iranian nuclear program could only have military applications.
In his State of the Union address
last week, President Barack Obama warned Tehran over its nuclear plans. "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal," Obama said.
A draft analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security quoted by "The Guardian"
predicted that Israel would attack Iran in 2012 to derail an alleged nuclear weapons program. The report suggested Iran was "unlikely to dash toward making nuclear weapons as long as its uranium-enrichment capability remains as limited as it is today."
compiled from agency reports