U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon PanettaReuters

The United States will have “little more than a year” to respond to Iran should the Islamic Republic decide to build a nuclear weapon, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Tuesday.

“It’s roughly about a year right now. A little more than a year. And so … we think we will have the opportunity once we know that they’ve made that decision, [to] take the action necessary to stop [Iran],” Panetta said on CBS’s “This Morning” program.

He continued to state that the United States has "pretty good intelligence" on Iran, adding, "We know generally what they're up to. And so we keep a close track on them."

Panetta further stressed that the U.S. has the capability to prevent Iran from building an atomic bomb.

"We have the forces in place to be able to not only defend ourselves, but to do what we have to do to try to stop them from developing nuclear weapons," he said.

The defense secretary’s words come in light of the ongoing and intensifying spat between Israel and the U.S. regarding setting a “clear red line” for Iran’s nuclear program.

While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the two countries are in talks regarding setting a "clear red line" for Iran, they remain at odds over whether to spell out an unambiguous threshold for military action.

Netanyahu has been pressing President Obama to issue a sharper ultimatum for Tehran, but the U.S. administration has been unwilling to heed such calls and continues to claim that means of diplomacy and economic sanctions will be sufficient in deterring the hostile regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In an interview with Bloomberg Radio, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. is “not setting deadlines” with regard to Iran.

Netanyahu responded by saying, "The world tells Israel 'wait, there's still time.' And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."