Iran is making steady progress in its nuclear program but is not on the brink of a nuclear weapon yet, US National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor said Thursday.
Vietor added that there is still time to pursue the diplomatic track with Tehran. He said US sanctions on Iran are more stringent than ever, and that they would take a real toll on the country.
Just a few hours earlier, Defense Minister Ehud Barak had said that the US estimate of Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons is closer now than it was in the past to Israel’s assessment, and reflects a greater sense of urgent imperative to thwart the Iranian nuclear drive.
Barak was speaking amid reports that the American intelligence community has produced a new National Intelligence Estimate, recently presented to President Barack Obama — something the White House has refused to comment on — which details “alarming” intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program, including marked progress on key elements of its weaponization drive.
The question of a possible strike on Iran, and of whether a strike would be feasible before the US elections in November, is causing tensions between President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Channel 10 News reported.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak believe the dovish president is heading an “opposition campaign” against a preemptive strike on Iran — and speaking his mind about it with senior Israeli and American figures, the report said.
Peres has spoken out against an early Israeli strike on Iran in the past, although he is aware of the value of keeping the threat of such a strike on the table, especially if placed there by the US.
During an interview with Canada’s The Globe and Mail in June, Peres urged caution when he referred to a possible strike on Iran. “In order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear [armed] country you have to introduce a system of verification and inspection,” he said, and worried that such a system could be jeopardized by a pre-emptive attack.
The reported rift between Peres, on the one hand, and Barak and Netanyahu, on the other, comes as the government is trying to mount a unified campaign with regards to Iran. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel Radio this week that officials and foreign leaders who speak out, in public, against a possible strike on Iran should stop because it does more harm than good.