The White House on Tuesday flatly denied an Army Radio report that claimed US President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term. It said that while the military option had not been taken off the table, the administration preferred to resolve concerns about Iran's push for a nuclear weapon "through peaceful diplomatic means."
Army Radio had quoted a top official in Jerusalem claiming that a senior member in the entourage of President Bush, who visited Israel last week, had said in a closed meeting here that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action against Iran was called for.
The official reportedly went on to say that, for the time being, "the hesitancy of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice" was preventing the administration from deciding to launch such an attack on the Islamic Republic.
The Army Radio report, which was quoted by The Jerusalem Post and resonated widely, stated that according to assessments in Israel, the recent turmoil in Lebanon, where Hizbullah has established de facto control of the country, was advancing an American attack.
Bush, the official reportedly said, considered Hizbullah's show of strength evidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's growing influence. In Bush's view, the official said, "the disease must be treated - not its symptoms."
However, the White House on Tuesday afternoon dismissed the story. In a statement, it said that "[the US] remain[s] opposed to Iran's ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. To that end, we are working to bring tough diplomatic and economic pressure on the Iranians to get them to change their behavior and to halt their uranium enrichment program."
It went on: "As the president has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard."
In an interview last week in the Oval Office, Bush told the Post that "Iran is an incredibly negative influence" and "the biggest long-term threat to peace in the Middle East," but that the US was "pushing back hard and will continue to do so."
He noted that "Iran is involved in funding Hamas and Hizbullah, and it's that Iranian influence which I'm deeply concerned about. But there needs to be more than just the United States concerned about it."
Bush said: "We take [seriously] this issue of [Iran] getting the technology, the know-how on how to develop a nuclear weapon."
"All options are on the table," he said, but, "Of course you want to try to solve this problem diplomatically."
Asked whether the Iranians would be deterred from their nuclear drive by the time he left office, Bush told the Post: "What definitely will be done [before I leave office will be the establishment of] a structure on how to deal with this, to try to resolve this diplomatically. In other words sanctions, pressures, financial pressures. You know, a history of pressure that will serve as a framework to make sure other countries are involved."
Days later, in his address to the Knesset, Bush said that "the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages" and "America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions."
"Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said.
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