* Netanyahu says believes 'red line' good for diplomacy
* Israeli prime minister makes ultimatum after U.S. refuses
* Says Iranians must not be allowed to complete enrichment
* His time frame suggests no Israeli attack is imminent
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu drew his "red line" for Iran's nuclear
program on Thursday despite a U.S. refusal to set an ultimatum,
saying Tehran will be on the brink of a nuclear weapon in less
than a year.
By citing a time frame in an address to the U.N. General
Assembly, Netanyahu - who has clashed with President Barack
Obama over the urgency of military action against Iran -
appeared to suggest no Israeli attack was imminent before the
Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election.
Holding up a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb with a fuse,
Netanyahu literally drew a red line just below a label reading
"final stage" to a bomb, in which Iran was 90 percent along the
path of having sufficient weapons-grade material.
Experts put that at the point that Iran has amassed enough
uranium, purified to a level of 20 percent, that could quickly
be enriched further and be used to produce an atomic bomb.
Netanyahu told the United Nations he believes that faced
with a clear red line, Iran will back down in a crisis that has
sent jitters across the region and in financial markets.
"And this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to
convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program
altogether," he added.
Netanyahu's remarks were the closest he or any top Israeli
official has come to publicly laying out precisely which Iranian
actions could trigger an Israeli military strike on Tehran's
But by referring to a spring or summer 2013 time frame for
Iran to complete the next stage of uranium enrichment, the
Israeli leader also seemed to dispel, at least for now, fears
that Israel might strike Iran before the U.S. presidential
election, 40 days away.
Netanyahu's remarks also seemed to deliver a two-part
message to the Obama White House - along with Iran's leaders,
his most important audience - signalling that the hawkish prime
minister wanted an end to the all-too-public war of words with
Washington over Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions. But they
also showed that he was not backing down an inch on his
insistence that much harsher warnings must be delivered to
"NEXT SPRING OR SUMMER"
In his speech, Netanyahu never explicitly said that if Iran
crossed his red line, Israel would launch attacks against the
Iranian nuclear facilities, but he did seem to imply such a
"At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully
prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That's by placing a
clear red line on Iran's nuclear program," Netanyahu said.
Iran, Netanyahu said, was well into what he defined as the
second stage of enrichment - 20 percent purification - and
predicted it would complete it by "next spring, at most by next
summer, at current enrichment rates."
According to an August report by the U.N. International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has stockpiled 91.4 kg (201.5
pounds) of the 20 percent material.
Some experts say Iran would need 200 to 250 kg (440 to 550
pounds) of such material for a weapon. Other experts suggest
less might do it. Iran could potentially reach that threshold
soon by producing roughly 15 kg (33 pounds) a month, a rate that
could be speeded up if it activates new enrichment centrifuges.
According to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, around 25 kg (55.1
pounds) of uranium enriched to a 90 percent purity level would
be needed for a single nuclear weapon.
In his own speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama
said the United States will "do what we must" to prevent Iran
from acquiring nuclear weapons and that time is not unlimited
for diplomacy to resolve the issue.
Obama set no ultimatum or clear "red line" of his own,
despite public urging from Netanyahu over the past several weeks
that has aggravated strains between the two leaders.
"CHART A PATH FORWARD"
Seeking re-election, Obama has faced criticism from
Republican challenger Mitt Romney that the president is being
too tough with Israel and not tough enough with Iran.
"I very much appreciate the president's position, as does
everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran's
nuclear weapons program," Netanyahu said.
"Israel is in discussions with the United States over this
issue, and I am confident we can chart a path forward together,"
He spoke a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
addressed the General Assembly. Ahmadinejad said on Monday he
did not take seriously the threat that Israel could launch a
military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. He also said
Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be
Netanyahu was due to meet with U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton later in the day. White House spokesman Jay
Carney said he expected Obama to have a follow-up phone call
with Netanyahu, probably on Friday.
Obama has drawn criticism from Republicans for opting not to
meet Netanyahu or other foreign leaders on the sidelines of the
General Assembly and focus instead on campaigning for
Netanyahu has faced opposition within his cabinet and from
former Israeli security chiefs to any go-it-alone attack on
Iran. Opinion polls show that Israelis are wary of any such
strike by their military, whose capability of destroying
underground Iranian facilities is limited.
Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only atomic
arsenal, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence
and has expressed frustration over the failure of diplomacy and
sanctions to rein in Tehran's nuclear activity. Iran says it is
enriching uranium only for peaceful energy and medical purposes,
not for nuclear bombs.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based
Arms Control Association, said Iran's uranium enrichment program
"By sometime next year, Iran could potentially amass enough
20 percent enriched material that could - if Iran decides to
expel inspectors and convert the material to weapons grade -
provide enough nuclear material for one bomb," Kimball said.
"But enough material for one bomb doesn't constitute an
effective, deliverable nuclear arsenal."