SANTIAGO — US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Thursday he hopes that statements from Israel's military chief describing Iran's leadership as rational were "correct."

Israeli Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told the Haaretz newspaper on Wednesday that the Iranian leadership "is composed of very rational people," and that while Tehran was reaching the point at which it could decide to build a nuclear bomb, the leaders had not yet decided whether to proceed.

"I would hope he's correct and he knows something more that I do," Panetta said during a visit to Chile.

"I do not have any specific information that indicates (the Iranians) have made any decision one way or another" on whether to build a nuclear weapon, Panetta told reporters after meeting his Chilean counterpart Andres Allamand.

Neither Israel nor the United States currently believe that Tehran has actually taken the decision to develop a nuclear bomb, a decision that would require the ability to quickly produce weapons-grade uranium.

"I would like to hope... that because of the leadership of the United States, the international community and the leadership of Israel, they can make the right decision," Panetta said.

Israel and much of the West suspect Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for a weapons drive -- a charge Tehran denies. Israeli officials have refused to rule out a pre-emptive strike on its chief foe's nuclear facilities.

Panetta began his first Latin America tour Monday in Colombia, and then visited Brazil in a bid to boost military cooperation and regional security ties.