Skip to main content

World needs to keep 'maximum pressure' on Iran, Panetta says

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:13 PM EDT, Wed August 1, 2012
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is on a weeklong trip to the Middle East and North Africa.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is on a weeklong trip to the Middle East and North Africa.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. is "fully prepared militarily with options," says U.S. defense secretary
  • Leon Panetta says sanctions still the "most effective" way to deter Iran
  • Israel's Netanyahu says time for a peaceful solution "is running out"
  • Panetta visited a missile-defense system that received U.S. funding

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The United States won't let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, "period," but sanctions remain the best tool to keep Tehran off the nuclear path, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday in Israel.

Panetta called united, international pressure "the most effective way to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

"We have been steadily applying more and more pressure against Tehran, focusing on diplomatic and economic sanctions, and I believe these steps are having an effect," Panetta said after reviewing an Israeli missile-defense battery with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But international leaders must keep "maximum pressure" on Iran, he added.

Panetta's comments came on the same day that the Senate and the House passed a measure tightening sanctions on Iran.

"This legislation expands our existing sanctions on Iran's energy sector, and imposes new sanctions targeting shipping and insurance," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in a statement. The legislation "closes loopholes and stops the use of front companies or financial institutions to get around international sanctions."

Israel's possible attack on Iran nukes
Panetta meets new Egyptian president
Secretary Panetta on post-Assad Syria
Panetta: U.S. 'closely monitoring' Syria

Iran's oil exports have been cut in half, and its currency has lost nearly 40% of its value, he said.

In an interview with CNN's Barbara Starr, Panetta said Israel had not decided whether to attack Iran, which he said would be about a year away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon if it were to decide to do so.

"My message has been that we have a clear goal here, which is to ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon," he said. "If, for some reason, that doesn't work, we're fully prepared militarily with options to enforce that."

Panetta told Israeli leaders that Washington, its leading ally, "stands firmly with Israel" and has a "rock-solid" commitment to its security. After talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Pentagon chief said the United States "will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period."

But Netanyahu expressed skepticism, saying, "Time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out."

"However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them," Netanyahu said. "Right now, the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program."

Iran has refused international demands that it stop producing enriched uranium, saying that its work is aimed at fueling civilian nuclear reactors. But some Western countries, particularly Israel, say they fear the program is a cover for Iran to develop atomic weapons, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it can no longer verify that the Iranian program is strictly peaceful.

U.S. spy agencies believe that Iran has not decided to pursue nuclear weapons but that it is building the "scientific, technical and industrial capacity" that would allow it to do so, James Clapper, the national intelligence chief, told a Senate committee in February.

Concerns have been raised that the window for a diplomatic solution to the matter may be closing, and a military strike by Israel -- the leading U.S. ally in the region -- against Iran's nuclear program may be on the horizon.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said last week that Iran was in an "open war" with Israel after he pointed the finger at Iran and Hezbollah for a bus bombing in Bulgaria last month that killed six people, five of them Israelis.

Iran, which condemned the attack, rejected Israel's claims.

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions targeting Iran's petrochemical industries as well as banks in China and Iraq that U.S. officials say helped Iranian authorities evade existing sanctions. Iranian oil exports have been cut by 40%, the International Atomic Energy Agency reports. The rial, Iran's currency, has dropped by nearly the same amount, fueling rampant inflation that has affected ordinary Iranians.

Panetta is on a weeklong trip to the Middle East and North Africa. His stop in Israel came three days after presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited Jerusalem and pledged to support any measures to keep Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

At the outset of his trip, Panetta said the issue "hasn't been easy." But, he added, "I think the fact is that when the United States, Israel and the international community remain unified in our position against Iran, that that's the best way to convince Iran to pull back from what they are doing and to abide by international rules and regulations."

Strong support for Israel is a core element of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and the two countries collaborate on military planning and research. One example of that was the "Iron Dome" anti-missile system he saw in Ashkelon, a project that received funding from the U.S. government.

CNN's Jethro Mullen and Paul Colsey contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT