Bush: US would defend Israel against Iran
By Steve Holland Wed Feb 1, 1:59 PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - President George W. Bush vowed on Wednesday the United States would defend Israel militarily if needed against Iran and denounced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "menacing talk" against Israel.
In a Reuters interview aboard Air Force One en route to Nashville, Bush also said he saw a "very good chance" the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency would refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
"I am concerned about a person that, one, tries to rewrite the history of the Holocaust, and two, has made it clear that his intentions are to destroy Israel," Bush said.
"Israel is a solid ally of the United States, we will rise to Israel's defense if need be. So this kind of menacing talk is disturbing. It's not only disturbing to the United States, it's disturbing for other countries in the world as well," he added.
Asked if he meant the United States would rise to Israel's defense militarily, Bush said: "You bet, we'll defend Israel."
Ahmadinejad has prompted international condemnation for anti-Israel rhetoric in recent weeks, including saying it should be wiped off the map, and also calling into question the Holocaust.
IRAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran is engaged in a stand-off over its nuclear program. Tehran insists its program is aimed at developing nuclear power and the United States and other international powers charge it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Asked if he thought the IAEA will refer Iran to the Security Council, Bush said: "The IAEA must take a look at the facts, and listen carefully to the arguments, and there's a very good chance it will."
Bush said not only should Iran not be allowed to enrich uranium, it should not even be able to learn how to enrich uranium because it could then learn how to make a weapon.
But he said it was acceptable with him for Tehran to have civilian nuclear power under the condition that the spent fuel be taken away to another country, a proposal Russia has made and which Bush supports.
The council's five permanent members, including a reluctant Russia and China, this week agreed to ask the U.N. nuclear watchdog to report Iran to New York immediately.
Bush also said he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about Iran and would not say how Putin feels about a Security Council referral. "He understands the threat, and we share the same goal," he said.
The IAEA's governing board will decide at an emergency meeting in Vienna on Thursday whether to report Iran to the Security Council.
Iran rejects accusations it is trying to build a nuclear bomb and says it will not give up its right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Bush said on Tuesday in his State of the Union speech that Iran is being "held hostage" by clerical leaders who repress their people.
Asked in the interview if he was calling for Iranians to rise up and overthrow the ruling government, Bush said: "Not at all. What I am saying is that ... the United States is very aware of their conditions and we recognize that liberty is universal and that we hope some day they will be in a position to have a democracy based upon Iranian customs and Iranian traditions."