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Benjamin Netanyahu: Iran is almost to the brink (+video)

At the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a clear red line in hope that Iran will back down from a path towards nuclear weapon development. Three rounds of talks with Iran this year have not yet lead the country to halt its nuclear program.

By Jeffrey HellerReuters / September 27, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a graphic of a bomb as he addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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UNITED NATIONS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew his "red line" for Iran's nuclear program on Thursday despite a U.S. refusal to set an ultimatum, saying Tehran will be on the brink of a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a "clear red line" must be set on Iran's nuclear program.

By citing a time frame in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu - who has clashed with President Barack Obama over the urgency of military action against Iran - appeared to suggest no Israeli attack was imminent before the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election.

Holding up a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb with a fuse, Netanyahu literally drew a red line just below a label reading "final stage" to a bomb, in which Iran was 90 percent along the path of having sufficient weapons-grade material.

Experts put that at the point that Iran has amassed enough uranium, purified to a level of 20 percent, that could quickly be enriched further and be used to produce an atomic bomb.

Netanyahu told the United Nations he believes that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down in a crisis that has sent jitters across the region and in financial markets.

"And this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program altogether," he added.

Netanyahu's remarks were the closest he or any top Israeli official has come to publicly laying out precisely which Iranian actions could trigger an Israeli military strike on Tehran's nuclear infrastructure.

But by referring to a spring or summer 2013 time frame for Iran to complete the next stage of uranium enrichment, the Israeli leader also seemed to dispel, at least for now, fears that Israel might strike Iran before the U.S. presidential election, 40 days away.

Netanyahu's remarks also seemed to deliver a two-part message to the Obama White House - along with Iran's leaders, his most important audience - signalling that the hawkish prime minister wanted an end to the all-too-public war of words with Washington over Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions. But they also showed he was not backing down an inch on his insistence that much harsher warnings must be delivered to Tehran.

"Next spring or summer"

In his speech, Netanyahu never explicitly said that if Iran crossed his red line, Israel would launch attacks against the Iranian nuclear facilities, but he did seem to imply such a threat.

"At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That's by placing a clear red line on Iran's nuclear program," Netanyahu said.

Iran, Netanyahu said, was well into what he defined as the second stage of enrichment - 20 percent purification - and predicted it would complete it by "next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates."

According to an August report by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has stockpiled 91.4 kg (201.5 pounds) of the 20 percent material.

Some experts say Iran would need 200 to 250 kg (440 to 550 pounds) of such material for a weapon. Other experts suggest less might do it. Iran could potentially reach that threshold soon by producing roughly 15 kg (33 pounds) a month, a rate that could be speeded up if it activates new enrichment centrifuges.

According to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, around 25 kg (55.1 pounds) of uranium enriched to a 90 percent purity level would be needed for a single nuclear weapon.

In his own speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama said the United States will "do what we must" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that time is not unlimited for diplomacy to resolve the issue.

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