Targeted economic sanctions on Iran probably will not deter Tehran from seeking a nuclear capability, CIA chief Leon E. Panetta said Sunday.
Urged on by the Obama administration, the U.N. Security Council this month passed a resolution to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear development. New sanctions also were agreed on by the European Union and the U.S. Congress.
In an interview with ABC's "This Week" program, Mr. Panetta said the new sanctions could create serious economic problems and help weaken the Tehran government.
"Will it deter them [Iran] from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not," he said, adding that Iran was continuing to develop its nuclear know-how.
The United States thinks Iran has enough low-enriched uranium now for two weapons, but Iran would have to enrich it first, the Central Intelligence Agency director said.
"And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapons-delivery system in order to make that viable," Mr. Panetta said.
The Islamic republic vehemently denies the charge, but has been flexing its military muscle, mainly in the strategic Persian Gulf region by staging regular war games and showcasing an array of Iran-manufactured missiles.
Later Sunday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he was alarmed by the CIA's claims that Iran had material for two bombs within two years and warned that Tehran may face new measures.
"Such information is always alarming, because today the international community does not recognize the Iranian nuclear program as transparent," Mr. Medvedev said after a world economic summit in Canada. "If it is shown that what the American special services say is true, then it will of course make the situation more tense, and I do not exclude" looking at additional actions against Iran.
While Mr. Medvedev cautioned that the information "needs to be checked," the Kremlin rarely comments on CIA statements at all and the sharpness of Mr. Medvedev's comments indicate the gulf that has grown between Moscow and Tehran over recent months.
Neither the United States, nor its top regional ally Israel - the sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power in the Middle East - have ruled out a military strike to curb Iran's atomic drive. "Israel is very concerned about what's happening in Iran," Mr. Panetta noted.
"We continue to share intelligence [with Israel] as to what exactly is Iran's capacity," Mr. Panetta told ABC, but added that Israel is "willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically."
Congress this week endorsed a sweeping package of tough new energy and financial sanctions on Tehran over the program, and on June 10, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1929, which imposes military and financial sanctions on Iran aiming to rein in its nuclear program.
The new U.S. measures being sent to President Obama for his signature, piled atop the U.N. Security Council and European sanctions, aim to choke off Iran's access to imports of refined petroleum products, such as gasoline and jet fuel, and to curb its access to the international banking system.
The bill would also shut U.S. markets to firms that provide Iran with financial services and the refined petroleum products that the oil-rich nation must import because of its weak domestic refining capability.
• From combined dispatches