Bush commits US to defence of Israel
24 January 2006 08:03
United States President George Bush on Monday committed the US to the defence of Israel against threats from Iran, saying he would not allow the world to be "blackmailed" by an Iranian nuclear weapon.
The president's warning, issued in an exchange with students in Kansas, came at a tense time in relations with Iran, after Tehran vowed to restart nuclear research.
The US is leading a diplomatic attempt to persuade other countries to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for failure to cooperate with UN inspectors. Tehran insists it is interested only in a civilian nuclear-energy programme, and has threatened to return to full-scale production of nuclear fuel if it is referred to the UN.
"I am deeply concerned about Iran, as should a lot of people be concerned about Iran. I am concerned when the country of Iran's president announces his desire to see that Israel gets destroyed," Bush said, referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to "wipe Israel off the map".
He added: "Israel is our ally. We're committed to the safety of Israel, and it's a commitment we will keep.
"Secondly, I'm concerned about a nontransparent society's desire to develop a nuclear weapon. The world cannot be put in a position where we can be blackmailed by a nuclear weapon. I believe it is very important for the Iranian government to hear loud and clear from not only the United States, but also from other nations around the world."
The president's appearance in Kansas took the form of a short speech followed by an unscripted question-and-answer session of the kind being tried out by Bush's handlers as a means of showing him at his most relaxed and responsive.
He defended his decision to allow wiretaps on telephone calls and e-mails between American residents and foreigners without court warrants, insisting it was legal.
"I'm mindful of your civil liberties and so I had all kinds of lawyers review the process," he told his audience of about 9 000 mostly students and soldiers at Kansas State University.
The president paid tribute to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, after being asked by a British questioner whether he had talked to the prime minister about the common perception of him in Britain as Bush's "yes man".
"I'm sorry that his relationship with me causes him political problems at home. You know, sometimes I can be little allergic for people overseas, if you know what I mean," the president said to laughter from a mostly supportive crowd.
"I'm aware that that is a criticism of Tony, and I just strongly disagree with that. He's an independent thinker. He and I share this interesting moment in history together, and we also share this deep belief that liberty will transform the world or can transform the world. That's what we believe. In other words, there is a philosophical core of Tony Blair, core beliefs that Tony and I share."
The president listed the issues on which he disagree with Blair, including the Kyoto accord on climate change and the international criminal court, both of which are opposed by Bush. But, the president went on, they agree "strategically, and that's what's important". He said they try to talk once a week.
"And it's a really interesting way to share, just thoughts and concerns," Bush said. "And the British-US relationship is unique. It's been unique in the past. It is unique today. And I'm convinced it will be unique in the future, for the good of the world." -- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005