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Israel: Iran 'months' from making nukes

Prime minister says unilateral action not being considered
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his wife, Aliza, board a plane for the United States on Sunday.


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iran is only months away from joining the club of nations that can make a nuclear weapon, Israel's prime minister said in a recent interview.

"The technological threshold is very close," Ehud Olmert said on CNN's "Late Edition" in an interview taped Thursday and broadcast Sunday.

"It can be measured by months rather than years."

Asked whether he believes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would halt his nation's nuclear-enrichment program under international pressure, Olmert said, "I prefer to take the necessary measures to stop it, rather than to find out later that my indifference was so dangerous."

Some observers disagree with Israel's characterization, saying Iran is five to 10 years away from being able to make a nuclear weapon. (Watch Olmert issue Iran warning -- :58 )

Iran has ignored a U.N. Security Council demand that it stop nuclear-enrichment activities or face possible sanctions.

In an allusion to the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II, Olmert said, "In modern times, we have to remember what happened when the world did not listen to dictators threatening other nations [with] annihilation."

Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel and raised questions about whether the Holocaust happened.

Most observers say Israel has long possessed nuclear weapons, but it has never acknowledged that publicly. The country has shown it is willing to act unilaterally on nuclear matters, attacking and destroying Iraq's nuclear reactor facility at Osirak in 1981.

Asked if Israel is planning a similar action against Iran, Olmert said the two situations are not analogous, as the world's attention is focused on Iran's nuclear ambitions, which was not the case 25 years ago with Iraq.

Olmert, who is visiting President Bush this week, said he hoped instead that "the responsible forces will take the necessary measures." He expressed confidence that Bush "will lead other nations in taking the necessary measures to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power."

Asked if Israel might take unilateral action against Iran, Olmert said, "I don't think that we have come close to even considering it."

GOP senator: Talk 'directly'

A prominent Republican lawmaker in the United States said Sunday that the Bush administration should end its opposition to direct talks with Iran.

"We, the United States, are going to have to engage Iran directly," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

"When you're talking about nuclear proliferation, you don't get many second chances," the Nebraska Republican told CNN.

The so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- have led negotiations, which stalled earlier this year. China and Russia have also been involved in talks with Iran.

Iran's leaders have insisted that they are pursuing a nuclear program solely for peaceful purposes, a claim challenged by the United States and much of the international community.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on "Fox News Sunday" that the international community has not asked the United States to promise Iran it will not attack or otherwise try to destabilize the regime.

"What we're talking about is a package that will make clear to Iran that there are choices to be made: either that there will be sanctions and actions taken against Iran by the international community, or there's a way for them to meet their civil nuclear concerns," she said.

Rice added, "Iran is a troublemaker in the international system, a central banker of terrorism. Security assurances are not on the table."

Last week, Ahmadinejad rejected a possible European offer for incentives, including a light-water nuclear reactor, in return for giving up its uranium-enrichment program.

Light-water reactors are more difficult to use in the development of weapons than are heavy-water plants, which produce more nuclear material.

Iran insists that it has a right under the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty to produce nuclear fuel. But the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has called on Iranian officials to clear up unresolved questions about its intentions.

The Security Council has been debating a resolution, backed by the United States, Britain and France, that would give the demand the force of international law and open the door to possible sanctions if Iran continues to refuse.

Russia and China, two of the council's veto-wielding permanent members, have said they oppose sanctions.

Democrats seek intelligence estimate

Some U.S. intelligence officials have estimated, based on the assumption that Iran has only slower, "P-1" centrifuges for enriching uranium, that the country is five to 10 years away from making a nuclear weapon. But Ahmadinejad recently asserted that Iran is "now under the process of research and testing" of faster "P-2" centrifuges.

Enriched uranium can be used to fuel power plants or, in much higher concentrations, to produce nuclear weapons.

The chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said last month that "we really don't know" how close Iran is to developing a nuclear weapon.

"We've got a long way to go in rebuilding our intelligence community," Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, told Fox News.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, concurred that "our intelligence is thin."

Five key Senate Democrats asked President Bush on Friday to order a new national intelligence estimate on Iran to avoid repeating misjudgments with intelligence that were made in the months leading up to the war in Iraq.

Led by Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the senators also asked for an unclassified summary of the estimate's key findings "to facilitate the public debate."

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