Iran 'a year from nuclear weapon'
President Barack Obama has disclosed that US intelligence agencies believe Iran continues to be a year or more away from building a nuclear weapon.
But this assessment is at odds with Israel, which contends that Tehran is on a faster course toward a bomb.
Mr Obama, in an interview yesterday with The Associated Press, expressed optimism about the blossoming diplomacy between his administration and Iran's new president, but said the US would not accept a "bad deal" on the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
He has launched a diplomatic outreach to Iran, aimed at resolving the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program. Last week, he spoke by phone with President Hassan Rouhani, marking the first direct exchange between US and Iranian leaders in more than 30 years.
"Rouhani has staked his position on the idea that he can improve relations with the rest of the world," Mr Obama said.
"And so far he's been saying a lot of the right things. And the question now is, can he follow through?"
But Mr Obama said Mr Rouhani is not Iran's only "decision-maker. He's not even the ultimate decision-maker," a reference to the control wielded by Iran's supreme leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.
Ayotollah Khamenei said today that some aspects of Mr Rouhani's trip to New York last month were "not appropriate," but reiterated his crucial support for the president's policy of outreach to the West.
The comments by Ayotollah Khamenei, summarised on his website, came after hard-liners criticised the 15-minute phone conversation between Mr Rouhani and Mr Obama.
Hard-liners, including commanders in the powerful Revolutionary Guard, have said the president went too far with the phone call in reaching out to the US
But Mr Rouhani's outreach has received broad support from Iranian legislators and it appears popular at a time when Iran is facing crippling economic sanctions due to the nuclear impasse.
Ayotollah Khamenei also said the US was "untrustworthy." He has previously said he's not opposed to direct talks with the US to resolve Iran's nuclear stand-off with the West but is not optimistic.
"We are sceptical of Americans and have no trust in them at all. The American government is untrustworthy, arrogant, illogical and a promise-breaker. It's a government captured by the international Zionism network," said the ayotollah, who has final say on all matters of state.
Given Khamenei's broad influence, some countries, most notably Israel, have questioned whether the ayotollah actually represents real change in Iran or just new packaging of old policies.
Obama also put distance between US and Israeli assessments of when Iran might have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. Israeli officials have said Iran is just months away from being able to build a bomb.
But Mr Obama said, "Our assessment continues to be a year or more away. And in fact, actually, our estimate is probably more conservative than the estimates of Israeli intelligence services."
The president used the same timetable in March, before travelling to Israel. The US and Israel contend that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb, while Tehran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.