Today on CBS’s Face the Nation, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated the Obama administration’s positon that Iran has not yet made the decision to build a nuclear weapon, but added, “we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability.” Panetta also said Iran getting the bomb would be a “red line” for the United States. “They need to know that if they take that step, that they’re going to get stopped,” he said. Host Bob Schieffer asked Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey if the U.S. could take out Iran’s nuclear facilities with conventional weapons. “I certainly want them to believe that that’s the case,” Dempsey said:
PANETTA: I think the pressure of the sanctions, the diplomatic pressures from everywhere, Europe, the United States, elsewhere, it’s working to put pressure on them. To make them understand that they cannot continue to do what they’re doing. Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us. [...]
SCHEIFFER: Could we take out their nuclear capability?
DEMPSEY: Well I certainly want them to believe that that’s the case? [...]
PANETTA: They need to know that if they take that step, that they’re going to get stopped. … Our preference is that the international community, including Israel, ought to work together on this issue. … If the Israelis made that decision we would have to be prepared to protect our forces in that situation that’s what we’d be concerned about.
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Back in November, Panetta said that attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would only briefly delay the country’s nuclear program.