Bush, Olmert Warn of Threat in Iran


By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
Monday, November 13, 2006 03 08 PM

(11-13) 15:08 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) -- At a potential turning point in its war in Iraq, the Bush administration paused Monday to huddle with worried ally Israel over the crisis next door in Iran and to take stock of other Mideast trouble spots.

Israel is worried that political fallout from the Republican election losses and rising calls for U.S. engagement with Iran may soften President Bush's resolve against a country whose president has said the Jewish state should be wiped from the map. Bush offered some reassurance on Iran during an Oval Office meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"I recognize the threat to world peace that the Iranians ... pose, as does the prime minister," Bush told reporters following the 90-minute meeting.

Olmert's White House meeting, his first since an inconclusive war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon weakened his own political footing at home, also covered the deteriorating political situations in the Palestinians territories and in Lebanon, U.S. and Israeli officials said. Iraq was a topic, but Israelis made clear that Iran's influence and support for terrorism was foremost on Olmert's mind.

"The Iran issue was the main issue on the table," Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin told reporters after the session. "Talking about what you do with this combination, what do you do with a president who not only backs terror but is actively pursuing nuclear weapons?"

The United States alleges that Iran has a rogue nuclear weapons program and is pressing for United Nations Security Council sanctions to punish Iran if it will not scale back sensitive nuclear fuel production. Israel is a presumed target if Iran produced a bomb. Iran denies that it is trying to build nuclear weapons.

The nuclear threat has been the focus of recent U.S. concern about its old adversary, but Iran also has unique influence within its Shiite neighbor Iraq and the potential to undermine the U.S. goals for a unified Iraqi government up to the task of securing and running the country when the U.S. withdraws.

Bush saw Olmert on the same day he was interviewed by an independent panel studying U.S. options in the Iraq war. The bipartisan group's report next month is expected to offer the Bush administration a possible path to change course or scale back its ambitions in the war now in its fourth year.

The Iraq Study Group may also address possible U.S. responses if the rising sectarian warfare in Iraq becomes the all-out civil war that Israel and many other Mideast neighbors fear.

One of the group's co-chairs, the influential Bush family adviser James A. Baker III, has said the United States should not cut off dialogue with its adversaries, and the group may recommend a new overture to Iran and Syria. Israeli officials say they fear any accommodation of Iran, and has tried to keep up pressure among European allies as well as the United States.

"There is no question that the Iranian threat is not just a threat for Israel, but for the whole world," Olmert said following the session with Bush. "The fanaticism and the extremism of the Iranian government, and the fact that the leader of a nation such as Iran can threaten the very existence of another nation, as he does towards the state of Israel, is not something that we can tolerate."

The Bush administration reversed itself earlier this year and offered to bargain face to face with Iran for the first time in years, if Iran would first suspend disputed nuclear activities.

Iran has so far refused the offer and spurned a package of economic and political incentives that the West hoped to trade for nuclear concessions.

Bush said the U.S. has not changed the terms, and he warned of "economic isolation" for Iran if it presses ahead.

"There has to be a consequence for their intransigence," Bush said.

Negotiations over initial, mild U.N. sanctions on Iran have gone slowly this fall, and it is not clear that the United States has support from key partners Russia and China to slap more punishing restrictions on the oil-rich regime. Neither the U.S. nor Israel has independent economic clout with Iran.