Bush to propose ME plan to combat Iran

US won't leave Israel to face Iran alone; says if he were Israeli, he'd take Ahmadinejad seriously.

Bush mouth open 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush mouth open 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush will work with Middle East allies to develop a security plan to counter Iran during his upcoming visit to the region. In his weekly radio address, Bush said that curtailing Iran's "aggressive ambitions" will be one of the key aims of his trip to the region this week. He did not provide details about the plan, but Arab diplomats said they expected the US president to offer closer military cooperation with moderate allies in the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Jordan. Bush said Iran remained a threat because it continued to develop missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons and had resisted international demands to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a reactor or fissile material for a bomb. The president urged the international community to keep up the pressure on Iran despite a recent US intelligence report saying Teheran suspended nuclear weapons development in 2003 and had not restarted it. "It's important for the people in the region to know that while all options remain on the table, I believe we can solve this problem diplomatically, and the way to do that is to continue to isolate Iran in the international community," Bush said. In an interview with Channel 2, Bush said if he were an Israeli he would take the words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" - seriously. Bush promised that the US will defend Israel "without ifs or buts." He downplayed the recent US intelligence report on Iran, saying "it means to me that Iran was a threat and is a threat." The president is to arrive in Israel on Wednesday and will meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres. The following day he will travel to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in Ramallah. On Friday, before leaving Israel, Bush will meet with Quartet special Middle East envoy Tony Blair and visit Yad Vashem. He will then travel to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia before wrapping up his trip with talks at Sharm e-Sheikh with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before returning to Washington. There has been speculation that Bush will also visit Lebanon and Iraq while he is in the region, but the White House has not confirmed that. Bush's upcoming visit, President Shimon Peres said Saturday, could provide the necessary boost to enable a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement by the end of 2008. "I think this visit by Bush will mark the transition from talk to Action," Peres told Channel 2 news. Peres added that the current trio of leaders - Bush, Olmert and Abbas - had the right attitudes to make real progress on the peace process. Israeli officials confirmed Saturday that there are no plans for a tripartite Bush-Olmert-Abbas meeting during the president's visit. In his weekly radio address, Bush said he planned to push both Olmert and Abbas to make progress on the peace talks that were relaunched at Annapolis. "This is difficult work. It will require tough decisions on complex questions," Bush said. "But I am optimistic about the prospects and I will make clear that America is deeply committed to helping both parties." The president said he would urge Arab leaders at his other destinations to help move the process forward. Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.