U.S. has about a year if Iran decides to make a nuclear bomb: Panetta

WASHINGTON Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:34am EDT

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks to reporters after visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial ahead of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in Shanksville, Pennsylvania September 10, 2012. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks to reporters after visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial ahead of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in Shanksville, Pennsylvania September 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mandel Ngan/Pool

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If Iran decides to make a nuclear weapon, the United States would have a little more than a year to act to stop it, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday.

"It's roughly about a year right now. A little more than a year. And so ... we think we will have the opportunity once we know that they've made that decision, take the action necessary to stop (Iran)," Panetta said on CBS's "This Morning" program.

He said the United States has "pretty good intelligence" on Iran. "We know generally what they're up to. And so we keep a close track on them."

Panetta said the United States has the capability to prevent Iran from building an atomic bomb.

"We have the forces in place to be able to not only defend ourselves, but to do what we have to do to try to stop them from developing nuclear weapons," he said.

The United States and Israel believe Iran is working toward developing nuclear weapon development capability. Israel, widely thought to be the Middle East's only atomic power, says a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence.

Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful energy purposes only.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday ramped up threats to attack Iran, saying if world powers refused to set a red line for Tehran's nuclear program, they could not demand that Israel hold its fire.

"The world tells Israel 'wait, there's still time.' And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," Netanyahu told reporters in Israel.

Netanyahu has said Israel and the United States were in talks on setting a "clear red line" for Iran's nuclear program. But the two allies remain at odds over whether to spell out a clear threshold for military action.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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