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By Matt Spetalnick and Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON Dec 4 U.S. President George W. Bush
insisted on Tuesday that Iran remains dangerous and urged
continued international pressure despite a new intelligence
report that Tehran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003.
Rushing to defend his hardline policy on Iran, Bush denied
the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which
contradicted his earlier assertions that Tehran was trying to
build a nuclear bomb, had dealt a blow to U.S. credibility.
"Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be
dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a
nuclear weapon," Bush told a White House news conference.
Reasserting his administration's refusal to rule out
military action, he said "all options are on the table" in
dealing with Iran but insisted that the United States was
stressing diplomacy to resolve the nuclear standoff.
Bush spoke one day after U.S. intelligence agencies
released an assessment concluding that Iran had stopped efforts
to develop a nuclear bomb more than four years ago, a sharp
reversal from a 2005 report.
The new findings took U.S. friends and foes by surprise
amid a campaign of increasingly strident rhetoric against
Tehran, including a stark warning by Bush last month that a
nuclear-armed Tehran could lead to World War Three.
Analysts said the report, which noted that Tehran's nuclear
weapons intentions were now unclear, might undermine
Washington's drive to persuade other world powers to agree on a
third round of U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Iran quickly welcomed the report as a vindication of its
long-standing claim that its nuclear program had only peaceful
aims such as electricity generation.
Britain and France said they would continue to seek further
sanctions against Iran. China and Russia so far have resisted
IRAQ COMPARISON BRUSHED ASIDE
The shift in the U.S. intelligence community's thinking on
Iran comes five years after a flawed NIE concluded neighboring
Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction -- a report
that helped pave the way for the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
No nuclear, chemical or biological weapons were ever found
in Iraq and intelligence agencies since have been more cautious
about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Brushing aside any comparison with Iraq, Bush -- who had
repeatedly accused Iran of working covertly to build a nuclear
bomb -- said there was still a serious threat of Tehran using
its uranium enrichment program to resume its weapons program.
"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the
program, they halted the program," Bush said. "The reason why
it's a warning signal is they could restart it."
He said the new report should be viewed not as a reason for
pulling back but for keeping the heat on Iran.
"To me, the NIE provides an opportunity for us to rally the
international community, to continue to rally the community to
pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, among senior Democrats
who had requested the updated assessment on Iran, called for a
top-to-bottom review of Iran policy.
"President Bush's heated rhetoric on Iran, including
comments about a potential World War Three, is even more
outrageous now that we know the intelligence community had
informed him that it believes Iran had stopped its nuclear
weapons program four years ago," Reid said.
"This is the latest in a long line of inaccurate and
misleading comments that got us into the Iraq war to begin
Reflecting the seriousness of his damage-control effort,
Bush was at times defensive, at other times combative in
answering reporters' questions.
He denied any concern about his political standing or about
a credibility gap with the American public.
"No, I'm feeling pretty spirited, pretty good about life,"
(Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Jeremy
Pelofsky; Editing by Patricia Wilson and John O'Callaghan)