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“We have the same concerns as Israel with regards to their obtaining a nuclear weapon, and we’ve made very clear we are going to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And we are also going to ensure that they do not close the Straits of Hormuz.”

Asked why the United States appears to be taking a strong position on Iran’s nuclear weapons, while saying less about North Korea’s nuclear arms program that is further along, Mr. Panetta said the United States is concerned about the North Korean nuclear arms and is continuing to press Pyongyang to “step back” from further developing nuclear arms.

As for Iran, “Obviously the concern there is the destabilization that would occur in that region if Iran were to obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Michele Flournoy, who in February stepped down as undersecretary of defense for policy, said during remarks last week that two countries in the region are set to develop nuclear weapons if Iran get the arms. She did not name the countries, but speculation has focused on Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

MATTIS ON CHAVEZ

Marine Corps. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the U.S. Central Command, made some disparaging comments last week about Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

Asked during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee about Iran’s growing international isolation and whether it has any strategic allies, Gen. Mattis said:

“There are some that have blocked, for their own reasons, resolutions in the United Nations, regrettably. But I don’t see them having allies. I don’t count that little fellow down in Venezuela as a very significant ally.”

Mr. Chavez publicly joked about having a “big atomic bomb” during a meeting in Venezuela in January with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.