JERUSALEM A senior Israeli minister called on world powers on Sunday to set a deadline for military action of weeks to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program after talks ended without progress at the weekend.
World powers and Iran failed again to end a deadlock in the decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear program during the meeting in Kazakhstan, prolonging a standoff that could yet spiral into a new Middle East war.
"Sanctions are not enough and the talks are not enough. The time has come to place before the Iranians a military threat or a form of red line, an unequivocal red line by the entire world, by the United States and the West ... in order to get results," Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said.
Steinitz, a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Army Radio action should be taken within "a few weeks, a month" if Iran did not stop enriching uranium, although he did not elaborate.
Netanyahu himself has spoken of a mid-2013 "red line" for denying the Islamic Republic the fuel needed for a first bomb, although several Israeli officials have privately acknowledged it had been deferred, maybe indefinitely.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - and Germany are trying to persuade Iran to abandon its higher-grade uranium enrichment, as a first step to a broader deal.
Refined uranium can be used to power atomic reactors, Iran's stated aim, or provide material for weapons if processed more. Iran says its nuclear work is intended for peaceful purposes.
Steinitz said in the interview that Iran was using talks to play for time while continuing to strive for a nuclear weapon.
"We warned beforehand that the way in which these talks are being conducted is a ploy to gain time, the Iranians are talking and laughing their way to a bomb while enriching uranium. We have a very clear stance on the matter and the world is beginning to understand," he said.
Steinitz cited North Korea's threat to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and the United States as an example of what Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, fears could happen if Iran managed to produce a nuclear weapon.
"I think that what is currently happening in Korea serves to demonstrate to us all ... how urgent it is to stop Iran's nuclear (activity)," Steinitz said.
"North Korea was somehow allowed by the international community to gain nuclear weapons and it is threatening to use (them) against South Korea, Japan and even the United States. Imagine what could happen within two or three years not only to Israel but to Europe, the United States and the whole world if the fanatical and extreme regime in Tehran attains nuclear weapons."
(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)