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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Iran

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Iran 1 Year or More from Nuclear Weapon

April 13, 2010 - 5:40 PM | by: Justin Fishel

WASHINGTON D.C. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates expanded on his declaration to a talk show last Sunday that Iran is not currently capable of building a nuclear bomb, telling reporters Tuesday it may take Iran a year or more to produce a weapon.

When asked about reports that Iran could be within months of having a bomb Gates said, “I don’t believe it.”

“I think that most estimates that I’ve seen haven’t changed since the last time we talked about it, which is probably at least a year, and maybe more,” Gates said on board a flight to South America. He plans to visit leaders from Peru and Colombia this week.

Also on Tuesday General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. that Iran’s nuclear program is of “enormous concern.”

“People ask me constantly you know what keeps you awake at night… it often can be Iran,” Petraeus said. He said a diplomatic hand was extended, but they chose not to take it. “They rebuffed the world and that has now led the world’s leaders to the pressure track.”

The ranking U.S. General in the Middle East jokingly referred to Iran’s leader, President Ahmadinejad, as “a top recruiting officer for US Central Command.”

“Each time he steps up to the podium when he denies the existence of the holocaust… when he announces new centrifuge design, whatever it is, it sends ripples through the rest of the region through the Arab world.” These ripples have prompted Arab allies to interact with Central Command in ways previously not seen, Petraeus said. Just last month, for example, Secretary Gates visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss more comprehensive missile defense systems within their borders, directed at Iran.

His biggest concern, Petraeus said, is the idea that a nuclear weapon or nuclear material could get in the hands of terrorists.

*Reuters contributed to this report.

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