Bush refuses to rule out force against Iran


Fri Aug 12, 2:23 PM ET

JERUSALEM (AFP) - US President George W. Bush refused to rule out the use of force against Iran over the Islamic Republic's resumption of nuclear activities, in an interview aired on Israeli television.

When asked if the use of force was an alternative to faltering diplomatic efforts, Bush said: "All options are on the table."

"The use of force is the last option for any president. You know we have used force in the recent past to secure our country," he said in a clear reference to Iraq, which the United States invaded in March 2003.

"I have been willing to do so as a last resort in order to secure the country and provide the opportunity for people to live in free societies," he added.

Bush was speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas to a reporter from Israeli public television. The Jewish state has accused Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and believes it is the prime target of the alleged arms programme.

The international community was waiting for Tehran's response after urging the Iranian government to halt its uranium conversion activities, which it resumed on Monday.

Bush expressed doubts that the European Union (EU) initiative to defuse the crisis through diplomatic means would succeed.

"The Iranians refused to comply with the demands of the free world which is: do not, in any way shape or form, have a program that could lead to a nuclear weapon," he said.

"In this particular instance the EU three -- Britain, France and Germany -- have taken the lead in helping to send the message, a unified message to the Iranians," Bush said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday in Vienna passed a EU resolution expressing "serious concern" at Iran's resumption of uranium conversion activities, and set a September 3 date for an IAEA report on Iran's compliance.

"In all these instances we want diplomacy to work and so we are working feverishly on the diplomatic route and, you know, we will see if we are successful or not. As you know I'm skeptical," he said.

Bush's interview to Israeli television was a step up from his previous warning to Iran Thursday.

"If Iran doesn't take the steps described in the resolution, we would expect that the next step would be referral to the Security Council," he had said.

Israel has been prodding Washington to adopt a tough stance on Iran and charged that Iran resumed its uranium conversion activities because it had sensed the "weakness" of the international community.

"Iran made this decision because they are getting the impression that the United States and the Europeans are spineless," a senior official from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office told AFP Tuesday.

Israel itself is believed to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East. Although it has never admitted to having nuclear weapons, it is believed to possess an arsenal of about 200 warheads.