CAPITOL HILL: Despite recent major developments in Iran’s nuclear program, the effort has yet to cross the ‘red lines’ requiring military intervention, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today.

Testifying before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee today, Panetta said intelligence shows that Tehran has yet to transition its nuclear program into a full-fledged weapons program. “That is the red line,” Panetta told subcommittee members today.

Panetta noted that the current slate of economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran were working in keeping the country’s nuclear ambitions in line. However, his comments came a day after Iranian engineers claimed to have cleared a major milestone in the nuclear program. Yesterday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the country had successfully developed its own nuclear fuel rods and were using them in reactors located in Tehran, according to state news agencies. Earlier this month, Iranian officials rebuffed a team of nuclear inspectors from the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency. This raised the specter that Iran may again be trying to sidestep further sanctions rather than responding to the growing suspicion about its nuclear ambitions.

But while important, Iran is only one of a stable of rogue nations — from Syria to North Korea –”that could explode on us,” in the future, Panetta told Congress The department’s fiscal 2013 budget plan, submitted to Congress on Monday, ensures that American military forces will be ready for any threat despite the fiscal strain the department is under. But maintaining those forces while paying for over half — or roughly $260 billion — of the $450 billion cut called for in the Budget Control Act passed last July “is a very tight margin” to manage, Panetta said. However, if the administration’s tentative sequestration plan to take $600 billion from DoD coffers becomes reality, “you can throw all of this out the window,” Panetta said today.

During his testimony, Panetta pressed Congress to act on an alternative sequestration plan. “This isn’t just about cutting [costs],” he told House panel members, reiterating the $600 billion reductions via sequestration is already “creating a huge shadow of doubt” inside the department. But when lawmakers pressed Panetta on what the department would need in an alternate sequestration plan, Panetta did not provide any details. On Monday, DoD comptroller Bob Hale said the department was not doing any budget planning to account for sequestration. When Rep. Hal Rogers tried to pry a response from Panetta on what an substitute sequestration plan, he replied: “I don’t think you can restructure sequestration. Its a crazy, nutty tool.”