Israeli Officials Deny Dispute With Obama on Iran's Nuclear Timeframe

Government officials explain that Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to the time Iran needs to complete uranium enrichment, while President Obama is referring to time Iran needs to possess a nuclear bomb.

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Officials in Jerusalem denied reports Saturday night that there is a dispute between Israel and the United States regarding Iran's timetable for reaching nuclear capability. In an interview with the Associated Press Saturday, U.S. President Barack Obama said U.S. intelligence assessments show Iran is still "a year or more away" from building a nuclear weapon, while Israel has estimated it is a matter of months.

Government officials explained that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is referring to the time Iran needs to complete an accumulation of enriched uranium at a level of 20 percent, while Obama was referring to the time Iran needs for the production of a nuclear bomb.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama see eye to eye on the need to prevent a nuclear Iran," government officials told Haaretz. "The critical timeframe that Netanyahu refers to is not how long it will take to produce a nuclear bomb, but the time Iran needs to complete its enrichment of uranium – the most important component for building a nuclear weapon."

The officials added that if Iran accumulates enough uranium at a level of 20 percent and decides to complete its uranium enrichment at a level of 90 percent, from which a nuclear bomb can be produced, then "it can achieve it within weeks from the day it decides to do so."

Officials also emphasized that Netanyahu does not rule out a diplomatic option with Iran, but insists any negotiations must lead to the total halt of Iran's capacity to enrich uranium.

"There is no reason why Iran, which claims it wants nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes, should maintain the capacity to enrich uranium, which allows for the development of material necessary for building a bomb. Seventeen countries, including Canada and Mexico, produce nuclear energy without enrichment," the government officials said. "Iran wishes to maintain centrifuges for enrichment and heavy water because they are needed to develop a nuclear weapon."

Obama and Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, September 30, 2013.Credit: Bloomberg