In an interview with Israeli TV ahead of his visit to the region next week, President Obama says he believes Iran is “over a year or so” away from being able to develop a nuclear weapon and that the U.S. will use “all options” to stop it.
“Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close,” Obama told Israeli Channel 2.
“They are not yet at the point I think where they’ve made a fundamental decision to get right with the international community,” he said, “but I do think that they’re recognizing that there’s a severe cost for them to continue on the path that they’re on and that there’s another door open.”
The nuclear standoff with Iran is expected to take center stage during Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel and in meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials. Obama continues to emphasize that there is still time for a diplomatic resolution, in contrast with a more urgent forecast from Netanyahu, who believes Iran is on the verge of obtaining a bomb.
“When I’m consulting with Bibi, as I have over the last several years on this issue, my message to him will be the same as before: If we can resolve it diplomatically that is a more lasting solution,” Obama said in the interview.
“But if not,” he added, “I continue to keep all options on the table.”
Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden warned Iran in a spirited speech to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, that those “options” include U.S. military action.
“Let me make clear what that commitment is: It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Period. End of discussion. Prevent — not contain – prevent,” Biden said.
“Big nations can’t bluff. And presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff. And President Barack Obama is not bluffing,” he said. “He is not bluffing.”
U.S. officials have said they believe Iran is developing the technical capability to be able to sprint to a obtaining a nuclear weapon on short notice but has not yet actually decided to pursue that course.
“The intelligence we have is they have not made the decision to proceed with the development a nuclear weapon,” outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview last month. ”I can’t tell you they are in fact pursuing a weapon, because that’s what not intelligence say they’re doing right now.”
Obama told the Israeli news channel that the sanctions regimen imposed by the U.S. and its international partners are “having a significant effect” and likely causing Iranian leadership to think twice about moving closer to a nuclear weapon.