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Defence Minister Peter MacKay rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Sept.25, 2012.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Iran has already crossed several "red lines," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Friday.

At a joint news conference at the Pentagon with U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, Mr. MacKay said: "There have been a number of red lines placed already, and Iran has edged closer and stepped over those red lines on a number of occasions."

In international affairs red lines – such as the one drawn out a day earlier at the United Nations by Israeli's Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu – amount to ultimatums that military action will result if they are crossed, so Mr. MacKay's claim that Iran's ruling mullahs have already crossed several with their controversial nuclear program was puzzling.

Asked if he endorsed Mr. Netanyahu's ultimatum, Mr. MacKay said: "The more important question [is] …'Is it the red line in the minds of the Israelis?'"

Aides travelling with Mr. McKay declined to respond.

Israel's red line, Mr. Netanyahu said, will be when Iran's enrichment program reaches the point that it has 90 per cent of the amount of weapons-grade uranium needed for the first warhead. The United States has not drawn similar explicit red lines, although President Barack Obama has repeatedly said Iran will not be permitted to develop nuclear weapons.

Responding to a question during the press conference, Mr. MacKay did say he hoped war could be averted. "The preferred option always will be and remains these alternatives to keeping the pressure on Iran to bring about more acceptable behaviour," he said.

The minister was in Washington to collect the William J. Perry prize for his contribution to "education, research, outreach and knowledge-sharing in defence and security issues in the Western Hemisphere," an annual award in honour of a former U.S. Defence Secretary. The bilateral with Mr. Panetta, the seventh time the two have met, was added to the agenda.