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Cheney targets Iran as top threat to peace, stability

| Friday, Jan. 21, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday that Iran is a top threat to world peace and Middle East stability, accusing Tehran of sponsoring terrorism against Americans and building a "fairly robust new nuclear program."

In an interview aired on MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" show a few hours before President Bush's inaugural address yesterday, Cheney warned that Israel "might well decide to act first" militarily to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities if the United States and its allies fail to resolve the standoff with Iran diplomatically.

"Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards," Cheney said.

In 1981, Israel sent warplanes to destroy Iraq's nuclear reactor.

"We don't want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it," Cheney said yesterday.

Iran denies that its nuclear facilities are being used for producing nuclear weapons, but the Bush administration disagrees.

In the interview with radio talk-show host Don Imus, the vice president made a rare admission -- saying he had miscalculated how quickly Iraqis would be able to recover from Saddam Hussein's government and begin running their country.

"I think the hundreds of thousands of people who were slaughtered at the time -- including anybody who had the gumption to stand up and challenge (Saddam) -- made the situation tougher than I would have thought," Cheney said. "I would chalk that one up as a miscalculation, where I thought things would have recovered more quickly."

The White House has been widely criticized for its post-war planning in Iraq, especially its failure to prepare for the insurgency that is threatening stability and the Jan. 30 elections for a 275-member national assembly.

Bush had condemned Iran as part of an "axis of evil" shortly after the 9/11 terrorists attacks in 2001, heightening tensions and raising the possibility of U.S. military action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the volatile Middle East.

In his inaugural address yesterday, Bush did not mention Iran but vowed to fight for those seeking freedom from the "rulers of outlaw regimes." Some foreign-policy experts predict the president might use military force to destroy Iran's nuclear program, but Bush and Cheney have promised to pursue diplomacy first.

"Certainly, in the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would be best suited by -- or best treated and dealt with -- if we could deal with it diplomatically," Cheney said.

The Bush policy calls for European nations to take the lead in negotiating for a full and verifiable halt to Iran's nuclear program. Bush has said on several occasions that all options are on the table if Iran would not comply.

If negotiations fail, Cheney said, the United States would ask the U.N. Security Council to impose international sanctions on Iran to force compliance with the nonproliferation treaty.

"You look around the world at potential trouble spots. Iran is right at the top of the list," the vice president said.

Bush had sought U.N. action shortly before invading Iraq in 2003.

The Pentagon has denied a report in this week's New Yorker magazine that the United States is conducting secret reconnaissance missions in Iran to identify potential nuclear targets.

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