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.