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. Cheney vows Iran will not get nuclear weapons
US Vice President Dick Cheney warned on Friday from the hangar deck of a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf that the United States will not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

"We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region," he told thousands of sailors on the nuclear-powered USS John C. Stennis as it cruised roughly 240 kilometres (150 miles) from Iran.

Cheney, who spoke with five warplanes arrayed behind him, said the US naval presence in the region sent "clear messages to friends and adversaries alike."

His comments came as he visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on a Middle East tour to ask Arab allies to boost their help for war-torn Iraq and to curb Iran's growing regional influence.

Later on Friday Cheney met the deputy commander of the UAE armed forces, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayan, who is also crown prince of the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

During their meeting in Abu Dhabi, they discussed "issues of common interest" in light of regional and international developments, and ways of boosting bilateral cooperation, the Emirati WAM news agency said.

The talks came ahead of the arrival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the UAE on Sunday in the first visit since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution by an Iranian head of state to the close US Gulf ally.

Cheney, who came to the UAE after a surprise two-day visit to Iraq, has refused to rule out using force against Iran's nuclear programme if diplomacy fails to convince Tehran to freeze sensitive activities.

But the commander of Iran's armed forces warned on Friday that his men would respond to any attack.

"The West... is murmuring threats, and... our armed forces are taking these threats seriously," General Hassan Firouzabadi told a military graduation ceremony, according to the state IRNA news agency.

"They have been realistically identifying the enemies' weak and strong points, and based on them, have been devising plans to confront these threats and have kept themselves ready," said Firouzabadi, who did not appear to be reacting directly to Cheney's remarks.

Washington says Iran is using a civilian atomic energy programme as cover to make atomic weapons. Tehran denies this.

In January US President George W. Bush ordered a second US aircraft carrier group to the Gulf and announced the deployment of Patriot missiles to the region to protect allies against potential strikes.

Bush also vowed that US forces would "seek out and destroy" those sending weapons or fighters from Syria or Iran into Iraq, where deadly sectarian violence has fuelled the war's deep unpopularity with the US public.

"Success in Iraq remains critical to our national security," said Cheney, who pressed leaders in Baghdad on Wednesday and Thursday to step up efforts at national reconciliation amid a US-led security crackdown.

"The ultimate solution in Iraq will be a political solution. But that requires basic security, especially in Baghdad, where our troops are working beside Iraqi forces to carry out our new strategy," he said.

Cheney, who spoke on the ship off Abu Dhabi four years after Bush declared victory in Iraq under a "Mission Accomplished" banner, told the crew "we want to complete the mission, get it done right and return with honour."

Despite polls showing that a majority of the US public favours setting a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq, Cheney insisted that "the American people will not support a policy of retreat."

The Stennis has 65 aircraft, 44 of them strike aircraft, and has been involved in operations to help US-led forces in Afghanistan battle Al-Qaeda extremists and the resurgent Taliban Islamist militia.

Before Cheney spoke, Captain Brad Johanson drew a laugh from his sweaty crew in the sweltering hangar by telling them: "We just got an announcement out of the UN that the Taliban have been put on the endangered species list."

Asked how he felt about Cheney's visit, Petty Officer Third Class Daniel Mulhern, 21, asked jokingly "apart from standing in a really, really hot hangar?"

"I think it's pretty neat getting attention from people pretty high up in the government. It breaks up the monotony of just sitting in the middle of the ocean," Mulhern said.

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