Wednesday, May 21, 2008

White House denies imminent plans to attack Iran

White House denies imminent plans to attack Iran

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The White House on Tuesday dismissed an Israeli media report that President Bush intends to attack Iran before his term ends in January.

"An article in today's Jerusalem Post about the president's position on Iran that quotes unnamed sources -- quoting unnamed sources -- is not worth the paper it's written on," the White House said in a statement hours after the Israeli newspaper published the report on its Web site.

The Jerusalem Post article cited an Israeli Army Radio report quoting a "senior official in Jerusalem" that a "senior member of the president's entourage" claimed Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney thought military action was called for against Tehran.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were opposed, the official told Army Radio, according to the newspaper.

The White House rejected the report.

"As the president has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard," the statement said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also called the report "nonsense."

Rice, Gates and Bush "are all on the same page regarding Iran," he said.

McCormack said the three all "support the efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to all the various issues involving Iran in the international system."

At a Senate panel hearing Tuesday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, pressed Gates about whether it would be "appeasement" to talk to Iran, as Bush seemed to suggest last week in a speech to the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Gates refused to be pinned down, saying, "I believe he said that it was appeasement to talk to terrorists -- to negotiate with terrorists."

Bushsparked a political firestorm with his speech using the highly charged word. VideoWatch more on Bush's comments in Israel »

"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," said Bush, who visited Israel during its 60th anniversary celebration.

"We have heard this foolish delusion before," he said. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

White House officials privately indicated Bush's remarks were aimed at Democrats, including Sen. Barack Obama, the front-runner for his party's presidential nomination, and former President Carter, who recently held talks with Hamas.

Specter told Gates that talking to Iran "is not appeasement."

The analogy to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who is most associated with the strategy of yielding to Hitler's demands in the days before World War II, is wrong, Specter said.

"I think there is an opportunity for dialogue" with Iran, he said. "But we have to be a little courageous, because the alternatives are very bleak."

At several points on his Mideast tour last week, Bush reiterated his call to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"Every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions," Bush said.

"To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations," he said Sunday at the World Economic Forum meeting in Egypt.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

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