Iran still a danger to world peace, says Bush

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The Independent US

President George Bush made a defiant defence of his policy on Iran yesterday, saying, "Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon". He was reacting to a newly declassified assessment by 16 American intelligence agencies which says that Iran closed its nuclear weapons programme four years ago.

One foreign-policy expert said the possibility that the US would bomb Iran "has now shrunk to nearly zero", but Mr Bush insisted that "all options are on the table for dealing with Iran". Mr Bush recently warned that unless Iran's secret nuclear weapons drive was halted, a third world war could result. But at a White House press conference, he steered clear of such bellicose language even as he insisted that Iran remained a danger to international peace and security.

He said the intelligence report justified his "carrots and sticks" approach to the Iranian nuclear question because Iran had halted its weapons programme. "I view this report as a warning signal that they had the programme, they halted the programme," Mr Bush said. "The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it.

"I still feel strongly that Iran's a danger. I think it is very important for the international community to recognise the fact that if Iran were to develop the knowledge that they could transfer to a clandestine programme, it would create a danger for the world."

Iran had welcomed the report as vindicating its longstanding declaration that its nuclear programme was for peaceful not military purposes. Iran's foreign ministry said it showed that earlier US reports that it was racing to build an atomic bomb were "baseless and untrustworthy".

Despite top secret briefings early each morning, Mr Bush denied that he knew about the new assessment before he made his 17 October remarks that Iran's nuclear programme threaten to bring about a third world war. He learnt of the latest intelligence findings only last week, Mr Bush said, while maintaining that none of his intelligence advisers had suggested he hold back from the warning.

He said the director of national intelligence, John M McConnell, told him in mid-summer that there was "some new information" about Iran's nuclear programme. "He didn't tell me what the information was."

The latest report was welcomed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki said "it is natural that we welcome it", although others cautioned that the threat of a military confrontation with the US had not gone away.

Because the report states that Iran could still revive its secret military nuclear programme, some analysts believe the intelligence report has cleared the way for the US to attack it at some time. It is pointed out that Iraq was declared all but free of weapons of mass destruction before the US invaded, and any evidence that Iran had started up its programme again could be used to justify an attack.

The declassified report says that Iran ended its weapons programme "primarily in response to international pressure" and said that Tehran's decisions "are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs".

The last time the US issued such a report, in 2005, it said it had "high confidence" that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. That report has frequently been used by the Bush administration to threaten Iran.

The report could also disrupt efforts by the US, Russia, Britain, China, France, and Germany to agree a new UN Security Council resolution expanding sanctions. Iran is already under sanctions for its refusal to stop uranium enrichment.