Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Iran was just six to seven months away from being able to build a nuclear bomb, adding urgency to his demand that President Barack Obama set a clear "red line" for Tehran in what could deepen the worst U.S.-Israeli rift in decades.
Taking to the television airwaves to make his case directly to the American public, Netanyahu said that by mid-2013 Iran would be 90 percent of the way toward enough enriched uranium for a weapon.
He again urged the United States to spell out limits that Tehran must not cross if it is to avoid military action - something Obama has refused to do, reports Reuters.
"You have to place that red line before them now, before it's too late," Netanyahu said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program, adding that such a U.S. move could reduce the chances of having to attack Iran's nuclear sites.
The unusually public dispute between close allies - coupled with Obama's decision not to meet with Netanyahu later this month - has exposed a gaping U.S.-Israeli divide and stepped up pressure on the U.S. leader in the final stretch of a tight presidential election campaign.
It was the clearest marker Netanyahu has laid down so far on why he has become so strident in his push for Washington to confront Tehran with a strict ultimatum. At the same time, his approach seemed certain to stoke further tensions with Obama, with whom he has had a notoriously testy relationship.
Senior U.S. officials say Iran has yet to decide on a nuclear "breakout" - a final rush to assemble components for a bomb - and they express high confidence that it is still at least a year away from the capacity to build one if it wanted to. This contrasts with Netanyahu's timetable, although the Israeli leader stopped short of saying Iran had decided to manufacture a weapon.
Netanyahu showed no signs of backing down on Sunday and equated the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran with the Islamist fury that fueled attacks on U.S. embassies across the Muslim world last week and shocked many Americans.
"It's the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?" Netanyahu asked in the NBC interview, in a clear emotional appeal to Americans still reeling from the angry protests sparked by a film that mocked the Prophet Mohammad.
There have been no accusations, however, of any Iranian role in stoking the violence that has swept Muslim capitals from the Middle East to Africa in the past week.
Netanyahu argued that a credible U.S. ultimatum was needed to curb Iran, which denies it is seeking a nuclear bomb.
"They're in the ‘red zone,'" Netanyahu said, using an American football metaphor that describes when a team is close to scoring a touchdown. "You can't let them cross that goal line ... because that would have unbelievable consequences."
But Susan Rice, Obama's U.N. envoy, offered no sign that Obama - who has asked Netanyahu to hold off on any strike on Iran's nuclear sites to give sanctions and diplomacy time to work - intended to soften his resistance to red lines.
"We will take no option off the table to ensure that (Iran) does not acquire a nuclear weapon, including a military option," Rice told "Meet the Press," reiterating Obama's longstanding position but insisting "they are not there yet."