Comparing the candidates' views on Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours Tehran's nuclear research reactor
In this photo released by the Iranian President's Office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours Tehran's nuclear research reactor center in northern Tehran, Iran, Feb. 15, 2012.
AP Photo/Iranian President's Office

(CBS News) Iran's nuclear program will almost certainly require the next president to make decisions that could determine whether there will be another war in the Middle East. Both candidates agree that tightening economic sanctions while reserving the threat of military action to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment facilities is the best policy for now, but there is one critical difference -- the red line which would trigger military action.

Here is how President Obama defined his red line in a speech last month to the United Nations: "The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney spelled out his red line: "The United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability."

That last word -- "capability" -- which he also uses on his campaign website, significantly shortens the time before Iran would reach Romney's red line. His campaign refuses to specify what he means by capability, but the term usually refers to Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. his own red line would come next spring or summer, when Iran is expected to have enriched enough uranium to build a bomb.

President Obama insists Iran has not yet made a decision to go for the bomb, and even with enough enriched uranium would still need a year or more to actually build one.

"America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy and we believe that there is still time and space to do so," President Obama said.

An aide to Romney says the governor also believes there is still time to pressure Iran into giving up its nuclear program, but not as much time as the president believes.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.