Iran yet to make nuclear bomb, says Panetta
WASHINGTON DEFENCE Secretary Leon Panetta says Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb and called for continued diplomatic and economic pressure to persuade Tehran not to take that step.
As he has previously, Panetta cautioned against a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying the action could trigger Iranian retaliation against US forces in the region.
“We have common cause here” with Israel, he said.
“And the better approach is for us to work together.” Panetta’s remarks on CBS’ Face the Nation, which were taped on Friday and aired on Sunday, reflect the long-held view of the Obama administration that Iran is not yet committed to building a nuclear arsenal, only to creating the industrial and scientific capacity to allow one if its leaders to decide to take that final step.
The comments suggest the White House’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear strategy has not changed in recent months, despite warnings from advocates of military action that time is running out to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
Several Republican candidates have called for a tougher line against Iran, saying they believe it is committed to building the bomb. “If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon,” said Mitt Romney. “And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” Rick Santorum has said that the US should plan a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and “say to them that if you do not open up those facilities and close them down, we will close them down for you.” Iran has opened two dozen of its facilities to international inspectors, but has refused in defiance of the UN Security Council to suspend its uranium enrichment.
A leading hardline Iranian newspaper reported Sunday that Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site well protected from possible airstrikes.
Kayhan daily, which is close to Iran’s ruling clerics, said scientists have begun injecting uranium gas into sophisticated centrifuges at the Fordo facility near the holy city of Qom.