The U.S. Congress is studying ways to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Military officials are telling key lawmakers that a nuclear armed Iran could be just years away.
While members of the Senate may disagree emphatically on most policy matters, they are in agreement on one point.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin says there is unity on the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. "There is a strong bipartisan determination on this committee and in this Congress to do all that we can to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he said.
Top Pentagon officials gave his panel an assessment of the threat.
Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess heads the Defense Intelligence Agency. Under questioning from Levin, he provided a time frame.
Levin: "With the installed centrifuges that they have, how long would it take, approximately, to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon?"
Burgess: The general consensus is - not knowing, again, the exact number of centrifuges that we actually have visibility into - we are talking one year."
The number-two military man at the Pentagon, General James Cartwright, said it would probably take several more years for Iran to take that highly enriched uranium and develop a usable weapon. "With the highly enriched uranium you are still dealing with three to five years to create a weapon," he said.
Members of the House of Representatives, saying there is not a second to wait, have sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to impose strict sanctions on Iran.
Three-hundred-thirty lawmakers signed on to the letter - from some of the most liberal members of the House to the most conservative. They underscored support for legislation already introduced that, among other things, seeks to cut the flow of refined petroleum products into Iran.
The Obama administration is focusing most of its attention on getting a package of tougher sanctions through the United Nations Security Council.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told the Senate Armed Services panel he believes China will sign on to a council resolution. "I think we and the Chinese agree we have to send a meaningful message to Iran. So yes sir, I do think it is possible," he said.
But Burns indicated he does not think it is likely that either China or Russia will agree to cut refined oil shipments to Iran.
The senior Republican on the committee, Senator John McCain, was clearly frustrated. "The sanctions so far that have been enacted by the Security Council have been, in the view of most observers, ineffective," he said.
McCain said the United States, France, Britain and Germany should not wait for the United Nations before imposing their own stepped-up sanctions regime.