WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that Iran remains a danger to the world despite a U.S. intelligence report it halted its atomic weapons program four years ago, and vowed to keep up pressure on Tehran.
Bush also said “all options” are on the table for dealing with Iran but insisted that the United States is stressing diplomacy to resolve the nuclear standoff.
“Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the know-how to make a nuclear weapon,” Bush told a news conference a day after intelligence agencies released an assessment that contradicted his administration’s earlier assertions that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb.
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) took U.S. friends and foes by surprise after years of strident rhetoric from Washington accusing Iran of pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.
Bush warned just last month that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War III.
Analysts said the new report, which says Tehran’s nuclear weapons intentions are 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.
But Bush maintained there is still a serious threat of Iran using its uranium enrichment program to restart its weapons programs if it decides to do so.
Bush vowed to continue efforts to rally the international community to press Tehran over its nuclear program.
“The best diplomacy — effective diplomacy — is one in which all options are on the table,” Bush said when asked whether military action remained an option.
Iran quickly welcomed the report as a vindication of its long-standing claim that its nuclear program had only peaceful civilian aims.
Britain and France said they would continue to seek further sanctions against Iran. China and Russia so far have resisted tougher measures.
The NIE, a consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies, concluded, “We do not know whether (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”
That marked a dramatic shift from a 2005 intelligence report that stated Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons.”
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, editing by Patricia Wilson