Iran a year away from nukes, Obama says

(JTA) — U.S. estimates show that Iran is a year or more away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon, President Obama said, contradicting shorter Israeli estimates.

In an interview released Saturday with the Associated Press, Obama called the U.S. estimate “probably more conservative” than that of Israeli intelligence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly last week that Iran is just months away from nuclear weapons capability and called for a tightening of sanctions despite the Western world’s softening attitude toward the Islamic Republic.

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Obama told the Associated Press that the U.S. shares “a lot of intelligence” with Israel.

“I think Prime Minister Netanyahu understandably is very skeptical about Iran, given the threats that they’ve made repeatedly against Israel, given the aid that they’ve given to organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas that have fired rockets into Israel. If I were the Prime Minister of Israel, I would be very wary as well of any kind of talk from the Iranians,” Obama said.

Obama said that Iranian President Hasan Rouhani has been “saying a lot of the right things” in his stated attempt to improve relations with the rest of the world. “The question now is, can he follow through? The way the Iranian system works, he’s not the only decision maker — he’s not even the ultimate decision maker,” Obama pointed out.

“But if in fact he is able to present a credible plan that says Iran is pursuing peaceful nuclear energy but we’re not pursuing nuclear weapons, and we are willing to be part of an internationally verified structure so that all other countries in the world know they are not pursuing nuclear weapons, then, in fact, they can improve relations, improve their economy. And we should test that,” Obama said.

Obama said that the United States is “not going to take a bad deal,” and will verify any agreement.

“It is very much in not only the United States’ interest but also Israel’s interest to see if we can resolve this without some sort of military conflict,” he added.