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Netanyahu brings fears about Iran to UN

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.
Richard Drew, Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Iran will have enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb by next summer.

Speaking Thursday before the United Nations, Netanyahu said the world must draw a clear "red line" to make Iran back down from its nuclear plans. He said it is getting "late, very late" to stop Iran.

Netanyahu has repeatedly argued that time is quickly running out to stop the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear power and the threat of force must be seriously considered.

The Obama administration has urgently sought to hold off Israeli military action, which would likely result in the U.S. being pulled into a conflict and cause region-wide mayhem on the eve of American elections.

Such an attack would almost certainly lead to retaliatory Iranian missile strikes on Israeli population centers. On Sunday, Iranian leaders suggested they may strike Israeli preemptively if they feel threatened.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Iran's development of missiles capable of striking the Jewish state and its support for hostile Arab militant groups.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also addressed the General Assembly on Thursday, accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing for building settlements in east Jerusalem.

"It is a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people via the demolition of their homes," Abbas said in his speech.

Israel conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Mideast War. It later annexed it, but the move has not been internationally recognized. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to the capital of their future state in the West Bank.

Abbas also said he has opened talks on a new bid for international recognition at the U.N., but didn't specify exactly when he will ask the General Assembly to vote.

"Intensive consultations with the various regional organizations and the state members" were under way, he said.

The Palestinians will apply to the General Assembly for nonmember state status. That stands in sharp contrast to last year, when they asked the Security Council to admit them as a full member state, but the bid failed.

Abbas insisted that the new quest for recognition was "not seeking to delegitimize Israel, but rather establish a state that should be established: Palestine."

Palestinian officials said their bid is likely to be submitted on Nov. 29.

Also Thursday, on the sidelines of the General Assembly, key figures will gather for a Friends of Yemen meeting that will be co-chaired by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Saudi Arabia's Deputy Foreign Ministe Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Abdullah. The meeting will produce a communique aimed at generating support for Hadi, who took office in February after more than a year of political turmoil and is now trying to steer his country's democratic transition.

Later, political directors from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will be meeting on the Iranian nuclear issue.

A few hours before Netanyahu flew to the U.S., Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, known for past fiery denunciations of the United States and Israel, spoke at length about his vision for a "new world order" during his speech at the U.N. His address on Wednesday happened to fall on Yom Kippur, the most sacred day on the Jewish calendar, devoted to fasting, prayer and introspection.

Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the speech soon after the fast ended. "On the day when we pray to be inscribed in the book of life a platform was given to a dictatorial regime that strives, at every opportunity, to sentence us to death," Netanyahu said. 'In my remarks to the U.N. General Assembly, they will hear my response. History has proven that those who have wanted to wipe us off the map have failed, as the Jewish People have overcome all obstacles," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu has said he is going to the U.N. to draw attention to what Israel perceives as the Iranian threat. Speaking to his Cabinet on Sunday, he said at the U.N. he would "reiterate that the most dangerous country in the world must not be allowed to arm itself with the most dangerous weapon in the world." He did not elaborate.

On Tuesday, the Maariv daily reported that Netanyahu would spell out what limits the international community should set for Iran to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power and how long that will take. Netanyahu has never laid out these limits precisely.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but Israel, the U.S. and other Western allies suspect otherwise. Four rounds of U.N. sanctions have already been placed on Iran.

A U.N. report last month only reinforced Israeli fears, finding that Iran has moved more of its uranium enrichment activities into fortified bunkers deep underground where they are impervious to air attack. Enrichment is a key activity in building a bomb, though it has other uses as well, such as producing medical isotopes.

While Israel is convinced that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, American officials believe Iran has not yet made a final decision to take the plunge, even as it develops much of the infrastructure needed to do so.

Obama has repeatedly said he will not allow Iran to gain nuclear weapons and has said the U.S. would be prepared to use force as a last resort. But in an interview Sunday with "60 Minutes" he also vowed to "block out any noise that's out there" on the issue, in an apparent swipe at Netanyahu.

Israel's timeline for military action is shorter than that of the United States, which has far more powerful bunker-busting bombs at its disposal, and there is great suspicion in Israel over whether in the moment of truth Obama will follow through on his pledge.

Netanyahu has a history of fiery speeches at the U.N. General Assembly.

In 2009, he waved the blueprints for the Nazi death camp Aushwitz and invoked the memory of his own family members murdered by the Nazis while making his case against Iran's Holocaust denial and threats to destroy Israel.

To those who remained at the General Assembly while Ahmadinejad spoke, he chastised: "Have you no shame? Have you no decency?"

And last year, he warned the world about the threat of militant Islam and Iran.

During his three-day visit, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — who recently expelled the Iranian ambassador from his country — and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He is not scheduled to meet Obama.

Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.