By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2011 - A nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable" to the United States and no option to prevent that from happening is off the table, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told CBS News.
Panetta told 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley that if Iranian leaders decided to go full bore on their nuclear program, then they could have nuclear weapons within a year. It could be quicker if the Iranians have a hidden facility enriching fuel, the secretary said during the Dec. 17 interview.
The secretary, speaking aboard his aircraft on the way back from a visit to the Middle East, Central Asia and Libya, pointed out that Israel and the United States share a common concern about Iran developing nukes.
"That's a red line for us," he said. "And it's a red line, obviously, for the Israelis. If we have to do it, we will do it."
If the Iranians proceed with the development of nuclear weapons, Panetta said, "Then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it." This would include military options, the secretary said.
Inspectors from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency are well-placed in Iran to observe nuclear activities, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
The secretary believes the U.N. inspectors would know if Iranian leaders make the decision to produce nuclear weapons.
"They have not done so yet," Kirby said.
Leon E. Panetta
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans