Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem denied Saturday night that there was a major disagreement between Israel and the US on how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is, following a statement by US President Barack Obama that Tehran was still a year away from being able to build a nuclear bomb.
The sources, cited by Israel Radio, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees eye to eye with Obama on the nuclear issue, and Israel’s estimate that Iran is further along referred to the time needed to complete uranium enrichment, not build a nuclear bomb.
Earlier Saturday, Obama said US intelligence assessments show Iran is still “a year or more away” from building a nuclear weapon.
The US president’s comments seemed to put him at odds with Israeli officials, who claimed that Iran is just months away from being able to build a bomb.
In the interview with the Associated Press, published Saturday, Obama acknowledged that American estimates are “more conservative” than those of the Israelis.
According to Israel Radio, the sources said should Iran choose to, it may finalize uranium enrichment within a matter of weeks.
However, officials in both Israel and the US acknowledge that building a bomb from the enriched uranium would still take a year.
Obama’s statement may have been designed to calm fears that the US is beginning a process of negotiations with Iran while enrichment is still going on.
Netanyahu and other Israeli official have expressed wariness over the recent diplomatic push between Iran and the US.
The sources, however, told Israel Radio that Netanyahu would not rule out negotiations with Tehran, though he would insist that any diplomatic effort should result in Iran’s immediate halting of all uranium enrichment.
Netanyahu told National Public Radio on Thursday that he would “consider” meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Netanyahu said he would question Rouhani on Tehran’s nuclear program.
“I don’t care about the meeting. I don’t have a problem with the diplomatic process,” Netanyahu told NPR’s Steve Inskeep.
“I haven’t been offered. If I’m offered, I’d consider it, but it’s not an issue,” he clarified. “If I meet with these people I’d stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can’t stay with the [nuclear] enrichment.”
He also called Rouhani, considered a relative moderate, the “least bad” candidate of those who were allowed to run in Iran’s June presidential elections.
Netanyahu told NPR that Iran’s overtures toward a deal with the West to curb its uranium enrichment were “hogwash,” but said he would be “delighted” by a “real” deal.
Raphael Ahren and Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report