U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday indicated that he believed that Iran was no closer than a year away from developing a nuclear weapon, in comments to an Israeli television news channel prior to a scheduled visit to the country next week.

“Right now, we think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon,” he told Channel 2.

“But obviously, we don’t want to cut it too close. What we are going to do is to continue to engage internationally with Iran.”

His comments come in the wake of the State Department confirming on Wednesday that some nations, including Japan and 10 major European nations, have qualified for an extension of the exception to sanctions outlined in Section 1245 of the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2012.

Mr. Obama’s remarks on Iran also come a day after the Pentagon reported that an Iranian military jet tried to intercept an “unarmed American MQ-1 remotely piloted aircraft” — or Predator drone — over international waters on March 12 but it was “discouraged from accomplishing that mission”.

‘Another door open’

Commenting on the potential impact of the “strongest” ever international sanctions on Teheran’s nuclear calculus Mr. Obama added, “They are not yet at the point, I think, where they’ve made a fundamental decision to get right with the international community... But I do think they are recognising that there is a severe cost for them to continue down the path they are on and that there’s another door open.”

Though the U.S. President downplayed differences of view on Iran between his administration and that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he underscored the importance of keeping diplomatic solutions on the table.

“If we can resolve it diplomatically, that’s a more lasting solution” he said.

Mr. Obama however did not shy away from admitting to some differences of opinion, noting that “There are conservative views both here in the U.S. and in Israel that may not jibe with mine, particularly when there is an election season coming up.”

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