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. Bush: US to back Israel against Iranian threat
WASHINGTON (AFP) Feb 17, 2005
President George W. Bush said Thursday that the United States would back Israel if it were threatened by Iran, which Washington suspects wants to build nuclear weapons.

"Iran has made it clear they don't like Israel, to put it bluntly. And the Israelis are concerned about whether or not Iran develops a nuclear weapon, as are we, as should everybody," Bush told a press conference after naming a new national intelligence director.

The US leader said the main aim was to support diplomatic attempts to solve the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

But he added: "Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well.

"And in that Israel is our ally and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened," Bush said.

The United States accuses Iran of using atomic energy as a cover for weapons development, a charge Tehran denies.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the UN nuclear watchdog, said in a Washington Post article this week that there was no evidence to support the claim that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

"On Iran, there really hasn't been much development, neither as a result of our inspections or as a result of intelligence," said the International Atomic Energy Agency director general.

Bush said Iran's controversial nuclear program would figure strongly in his talks during a visit to Europe next week.

France, Britain and Germany are leading diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to permanently abandon its nuclear enrichment program to produce weapons-grade uranium in return for a package of political and economic benefits.

In November, Iran suspended enrichment, but says it will resume it if talks with European negotiators fail to progress.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week complained that the three European nations had failed to make sufficiently clear the threat of UN sanctions if Tehran refused to renounce its suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.

"The Iranians need to hear that if they are unwilling to take the deal, really, that the Europeans are giving ... then the Security Council referral looms," Rice said in an interview with Fox News.

"I don't know that anyone has said that as clearly as they should to the Iranians," she said.

Rice later tempered her remarks, saying Washington had "no deadline" for progress in negotiations with Tehran.

In Thursday's press conference, Bush said, "The objective is to solve this issue diplomatically -- is to work with friends, like we're doing with France, Germany and Great Britain -- to continue making it clear to the Iranians that developing a nuclear weapon will be unacceptable."

Earlier this month, Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News that Washington backed the European diplomatic effort but that it had not "eliminated any alternative." He did not elaborate on what the alternatives would be.

In January, Cheney said he worried that Israel might strike to shut down Tehran's nuclear programs.

"One of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked," he told MSNBC in an interview.

"Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards," he said.

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