Iran nukes: When to act
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 270 kms south of Tehran, in 2008.
January 9th, 2012
01:26 PM ET

Iran nukes: When to act

By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

While rhetoric about Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon has been at a fever pitch from some Administration and congressional officials as well as Republican presidential candidates, a senior US official tells CNN there is no agreed upon point at which the US would take military action to stop Iran’s efforts. “The precise step at which action might be taken is not defined, it’s a complex set of variables,” the official said.

That explanation comes one day after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us,” Panetta made the comments on CBS’s Face the Nation.

But defining that red line involves having critical intelligence in hand before Iran crosses any so called red line. It would mean knowing that Iran has taken any number of steps that would put it on the path to nuclear weapons the official said. For example, expulsion of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency would be considered a potentially critical indicator that Iran has made the decision to move ahead with weapons development, he said. Other indicators include a capability to manufacture highly enriched uranium, and the ability to manufacturer critical miniaturization technology for a nuclear warhead.

Panetta also indicated he does not believe Iran has yet made the decision to proceed with a nuclear weapon, but he has also said he believes Iran, once if makes the decision, could get a weapon in a year on a more aggressive development schedule.

While the red line may not be specific, senior military officials are publicly noting they have the ability of conduct a military strike against Iran if ordered by the President. Also appearing on Face the Nation, General Martin Dempsey chairman of the Joint Chiefs was asked if the US could “take out” Iran’s nuclear capability..” Dempsey responded saying “well I certainly want them to believe that’s the case.”

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