UPDATE 3-Netanyahu draws 'red line' on Iran's nuclear program

Jeffrey Heller

* Netanyahu says believes 'red line' good for diplomacy

* Israeli prime minister makes ultimatum after U.S. refuses

* Says Iranians must not be allowed to complete enrichment

* His time frame suggests no Israeli attack is imminent

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 27 (Reuters) - 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.

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 that he was not backing down an inch on his

insistence that much harsher warnings must be delivered to



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


"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.

Obama set no ultimatum or clear "red line" of his own,

despite public urging from Netanyahu over the past several weeks

that has aggravated strains between the two leaders.


Seeking re-election, Obama has faced criticism from

Republican challenger Mitt Romney that the president is being

too tough with Israel and not tough enough with Iran.

"I very much appreciate the president's position, as does

everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran's

nuclear weapons program," Netanyahu said.

"Israel is in discussions with the United States over this

issue, and I am confident we can chart a path forward together,"

he said.

He spoke a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

addressed the General Assembly. Ahmadinejad said on Monday he

did not take seriously the threat that Israel could launch a

military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. He also said

Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be


Netanyahu was due to meet with U.S. Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton later in the day. White House spokesman Jay

Carney said he expected Obama to have a follow-up phone call

with Netanyahu, probably on Friday.

Obama has drawn criticism from Republicans for opting not to

meet Netanyahu or other foreign leaders on the sidelines of the

General Assembly and focus instead on campaigning for



Netanyahu has faced opposition within his cabinet and from

former Israeli security chiefs to any go-it-alone attack on

Iran. Opinion polls show that Israelis are wary of any such

strike by their military, whose capability of destroying

underground Iranian facilities is limited.

Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only atomic

arsenal, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence

and has expressed frustration over the failure of diplomacy and

sanctions to rein in Tehran's nuclear activity. Iran says it is

enriching uranium only for peaceful energy and medical purposes,

not for nuclear bombs.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based

Arms Control Association, said Iran's uranium enrichment program

is improving.

"By sometime next year, Iran could potentially amass enough

20 percent enriched material that could - if Iran decides to

expel inspectors and convert the material to weapons grade -

provide enough nuclear material for one bomb," Kimball said.

"But enough material for one bomb doesn't constitute an

effective, deliverable nuclear arsenal."

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