Monday, March 20, 2006

Bush warns Iran: don't touch our ally Israel

The Telegraph:
President George W Bush yesterday issued a stark warning to Iran when he said that America's military would be ordered into action if Teheran carried out its threat to attack Israel.

Using the most uncompromising language he has employed to date in dealing with Iran's nuclear threat, Mr Bush said: "I see a threat in Iran. The threat is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel.

"I've made it clear and I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel," Mr Bush said to applause. READ MORE

In his response to a question that followed a speech in Cleveland, Mr Bush made clear that diplomacy was America's preferred approach to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

But the pledge to defend Israel with force marked a vigorous response to a statement by Iran's radical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has stated that "Israel must be wiped off the map".

Mr Bush's promise of force came as diplomats met to finalise the United Nation's first major diplomatic intervention against Iran.

Mr Bush was sending an unmistakable signal to Iran's leaders in Teheran that any military or nuclear adventure will draw a swift response.

Last night, Britain's high-rise United Nations mission in the heart of Manhattan was at the centre of diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to continue negotiations about its nuclear programme as the representatives of America, Russia, China, France and Germany arrived to discuss the next steps.

Western diplomatic sources said that the first result could come as early as today, when the UN Security Council would be asked to issue a statement condemning the covert Iranian nuclear effort.

A western diplomat said: "The vast majority of Security Council members are ready to act. Russia and China are not signed up yet, but they have given pretty strong signals that they will."

Iran factfile

The so-called presidential statement would not contain any threats, but is seen by the West as a key first step to applying international pressure on Teheran.

But as always since the Iraq war, memories of the run-up to conflict with Saddam cloud the debate.

The Russians are hell-bent on preventing the Americans from securing Security Council action which might later be used to justify stronger measures.

So diplomats are working to find a formula that keeps the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), involved in the process while also bringing the heavy guns of the Security Council to bear.

That could take a few more days. Once that has happened, western diplomats say the ball will be in Iran's court.

Earlier this month, Teheran responded angrily when it was referred to the Security Council. Angered by talk of sanctions, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Teheran's envoy to the IAEA, said: "The United States is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if that is the path that the US wishes to choose, let the ball roll."