Though Iran could have enough nuclear bomb-making material as early as next year, the top U.S. defense official said Sunday that the Obama administration is not prepared "to even talk about containing a nuclear Iran."
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that all options are still on the table if Iran were to go nuclear, but he thinks there is still "some time to continue working this problem," conceivably through the use of economic sanctions.
"I don't think we're prepared to even talk about containing a nuclear Iran. I think we're -- we -- our view still is we -- we do not accept the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons. And our policies and our efforts are all aimed at preventing that from happening," he said.
Gates said "targeted economic pressures" has "real potential" to add difficulties to the Islamic Republic, whose government is growing increasingly isolated.
Sanctions, he said, along with helping U.S. allies in the Gulf area improve their defenses and improve their military capabilities could get the government in Tehran "finally to come to their senses and realize their security is probably more endangered by going forward than by stopping."
Earlier this month, Gates said that Iran could have enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb in the next one to three years, but may need a little more time to work up its weaponization and a delivery vehicle.
Iran has always denied that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, saying it needs enriched uranium to run a nuclear power reactor and to create medical isotopes.
Iran's Supreme National Security Council on Friday said the United Nations created a double standard by imposing sanctions on Iran earlier this month when Israel has never said definitively whether it has nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad previously has said he wants Israel wiped off the map.
"The resolution about the Islamic Republic of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities is based on trumped up charges that have never been proven," the council said in a statement.
New sanctions will attempt to freeze operations of 40 Iranian companies and organizations — 15 linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard and 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.
The sanctions ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons" and bar Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining and the purchase of certain heavy weapons, including attack helicopters and missiles.
The European Union adopted its own new sanctions against Iran on Thursday, a day after the Obama administration imposed U.S. penalties against additional individuals and institutions it says are helping Iran develop its nuclear and missile programs and evade sanctions.
Gates said the sanctions add to an increasingly alienated government in Tehran.
"Actually, what we've seen is a change in the nature of the regime in Tehran over the past 18 months or so. You have -- you have a much narrower based government in -- in Tehran now. Many of the religious figures are being set aside," he said.
"They appear to be moving more in the direction of a military dictatorship. Khameini is leaning on a smaller and smaller group of advisers. In the meantime, you have an illegitimate election that has divided the country."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.