Halifax, Nova Scotia (CNN) -- A leading Senate Republican voice on defense issues said Saturday the United States should consider neutering Iran's navy and air force if Tehran does not halt its nuclear program.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, told reporters that there will come a point where Iran's nuclear program will reach the state that a conventional limited air strike "won't take them out."
"We're probably even past that point," he said.
"Instead of a surgical strike on their nuclear infrastructure, I think we're to the point now that you have to really neuter the regime's ability to wage war against us and our allies. And that's a different military scenario. It's not a ground invasion but it certainly destroys the ability of the regime to strike back."
The United States believes Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran claims its program is for peaceful purposes.
The senator said that if the United States did attack Iran's navy and air force, Iran could retaliate with unconventional attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and launch terrorist attacks in other parts of the world.
"You can expect that," he said. "You can expect, for a period of time, all hell to break loose. You must have to almost plan for that. And weigh that against the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran and what that means to the future of the world."
Graham told reporters he believes there still is time for economic sanctions to work, but he says the sanctions currently in place are not "crippling."
"If [the Iranians] don't believe we will hit the military, if they believe that's not a possibility, then I think our ability to turn this around is very limited with sanctions."
President Obama should be "bolder," he said, targeting Iran's refined petroleum products, which he said is a key economic vulnerability of the regime.
Graham said he wishes Obama "would call in our Russian and Chinese friends and say, 'Listen, we're all in this together. There is no upside to a nuclear-armed Iran. Containment doesn't work. It's a nightmare for all of us. Please help me. If you don't, I'm going to have to go another way' and just let everybody begin to know that the other way is a growing reality.'"
Graham said he does not know when Iran will achieve "redundant" nuclear capability, "but I think it's probably not multiple years."
"This whole debate about how long -- I can't give you a definitive answer," he said, "but I can tell you every day is a day to be used one way or the other. And every day that goes by and we're indifferent, and less decisive, then that's a day lost."
Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers have been stalled since October 1, 2009, when the two sides last met in Geneva, Switzerland.
The European Union has proposed the two sides meet again in mid-November back in Geneva. Manouchehr Mottaki, Iranian foreign minister, has said that November 15 had been suggested for a meeting date.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran is ready to hold talks, but has warned that the Islamic republic won't yield any of its international rights to peaceful nuclear energy development, according to reports by state media.
A Council on Foreign Relations paper published in March said two developments raised suspicions over whether Iran's program is just for peaceful purposes.
It cites the September 2009 "revelation of a second uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom --constructed under the radar of international inspectors," and a U.N. nuclear agency report that "detailed Iran's potential for producing a nuclear weapon, including further fuel enrichment and plans for developing a missile-ready warhead."