UNITED NATIONS — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United Nations that Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb will be irreversible by next spring or summer, a more specific time frame than he has publicly argued before, and demanded that world powers draw a "red line" to trigger military action if Tehran refuses to stop before then.
Holding up a drawing of a bomb with a burning fuse, Netanyahu told the General Assembly that at its current rate, he thinks Iran will have produced enough sufficiently enriched uranium by mid 2013 that it could turn its attention to building an actual weapon within "a few months, possibly a few weeks."
He did not threaten to attack Iran, and said he was still working with the Obama administration to find a way to curb Iran's nuclear development without war. He emphasized Israel's close ties to the United States in what appeared to be an attempt to ease public concern of a rift between the two allies over the immediacy of the nuclear threat.
In his 30-minute address, Netanyahu drew a bright red line through the cartoon bomb to make his point that unless the world stops Iran, it will become an existential threat to Israel and a terrorist threat to the entire world.
"The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb," he said. "It is at what stage we can stop Iran from getting the bomb."
Netanyahu's warning came as the six world powers that have tried to negotiate limits on Iran's nuclear program conferred on the sidelines of UN meeting. Three high-level meetings of those nations — the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — and Iranian negotiators this year failed to produce a breakthrough, but U.S. officials said progress was possible.
Iran insists it is enriching uranium for civilian purposes, such as power generation, as is its right under international agreements, and that it is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran's rapid advances in nuclear development, despite a tightening oil embargo and other harsh economic sanctions, have loomed as a top issue during the annual meeting of global leaders.
Netanyahu has pushed the Obama administration for months to declare a "red line," or ultimatum, beyond which Iran cannot go or risk attack.
"I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down," he said.
When President Barack Obama addressed the General Assembly on Tuesday, he repeated his position that the United States would not allow Iran to build a bomb, but he did not specify how far it could go. He said he hoped diplomacy and punitive economic sanctions would persuade Tehran to abandon its efforts, but warned that time was not "unlimited."
An Israeli government report says existing measures have had an effect in Iran, a less-pessimistic take on the results of U.S.-led sanctions. The internal review by Israel's Foreign Ministry, reported Thursday by the Haaretz newspaper, found that resentment and frustration was building among Iranians who blame their government for rising prices caused by Western sanctions against Iran's oil industry and central bank.