A day after diplomats from the UN’s nuclear watchdog indicated Iran had begun converting a small amount of enriched uranium into nuclear fuel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tehran was continuing its drive to a nuclear bomb unabated.

Speaking to a group of American Jewish leaders, Netanyahu said Iran was nearing an irreversible “red line” and that, if not stopped, the country would soon be able to arm a nuclear warhead.

Iran’s nuclear weapons program “continues unabated. It’s focused on
enrichment because if they could continue and complete enrichment of
highly enriched uranium then they’ll have enough to produce enough
material to produce a nuclear bomb,” the prime minister told a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“I drew a line at the UN, last time I was there [in the fall],” Netanyahu continued. “They haven’t crossed that line, but what they’re doing is to shorten the time that it would take them to cross that line. And the way they’re shortening that time is by putting in new, faster centrifuges that cut the time by one third. So that Iran is putting itself in a position to cross the red line and have enough material to produce one nuclear bomb’s worth of highly enriched uranium.

“This has to be stopped. For the interest of peace and security, for the interests of the entire world,” he said. “How do you stop it? Well, you have to put greater pressure on them. You have to upgrade the sanctions. And they have to know that if the sanctions and the diplomacy fails, they face a credible military threat. That’s essential. Nothing else will do the job. And it’s getting closer.”

Netanyahu dismissed a report Sunday from diplomats connected to the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran was attempting to buy time by converting some of its enriched uranium into fuel.

The Iran issue will be on the agenda when US President Barack Obama visits Israel in March, Netanyahu said Sunday. Some reports claim Obama is coming in order to tell the prime minister directly not to strike at Iran.

Netanyahu told the visiting Jewish leaders he was looking forward to the visit and said that he worked well with his American counterpart, even if it didn’t always look that way.

“We worked together closely, closer than how it may look. We worked together on security, diplomacy and intelligence,” he said.

Obama’s visit has raised hopes among some of progress on the diplomatic front with the Palestinians. Netanyahu said he still believed in the two-states for two-peoples formulation he backed in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, speaking of the Palestinian state as a “demilitarized” one.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen for over two years, with Ramallah saying it will only come to the table if settlement building stops. Obama will reportedly try to arrange a three-way summit with Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit here, in a push to jump-start renewed talks.

Talks must be restarted, Netanyahu said, calling for “negotiations to be resumed with no preconditions.”

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.