Panetta Clarifies Matters on Iran

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Leon Panetta, whom we recently saw dropping media cornstarch to temper Israel's alleged urge to attack Iran, clarified his position last night on the CBS Evening News. In the far-ranging interview with Scott Pelley, Panetta predicted that Iran may be able to develop a nuclear weapon in the next year or perhaps even earlier. This strikes me as news:

Pelley: So are you saying that Iran can have a nuclear weapon in 2012?

Panetta: It would probably be about a year before they can do it. Perhaps a little less. But one proviso, Scott, is if they have a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.

Pelley: So that they can develop a weapon even more quickly...

Panetta: On a faster track....

Pelley: Than we believe....

Panetta: That's correct.

Panetta, from his perch on a military jet known as "The Doomsday Plane" no less, reaffirmed that Iran wielding a nuclear weapon would be "unacceptable" and repeated "that are no options off the table." 

While the Obama administration's position has repeatedly been to say a nuclear Iran is "unacceptable," this interview represents an abrupt shift for Panetta, who earlier this month suggested that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might hurt the world economy and fracture Israel's relationship with America. I suppose this is the point at which Joe Klein would call Panetta an "Israel-firster," if Panetta were Jewish.

It's also important to note that Iran has been uncharacteristically forthcoming  recently about the impact of the most recent round of sanctions. And in Italy today, the United States met with some key allies from around the world (possibly including a Gulf country) to discuss further sanctions.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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