Joint Press Conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George Bush (Excerpts)

January 9, 2008

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We also talked about Iran. Iran is a threat to world peace. There was a recent intelligence report that came out that I think sent the signal to some that said perhaps the United States does not view an Iran with a nuclear weapon as a serious problem. And I want to remind people, Mr. Prime Minister, what I said at the press conference when I discussed that National Intelligence Estimate. I said then that Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat, and Iran will be a threat if the international community does not come together and prevent that nation from the development of the know-how to build a nuclear weapon. A country which once had a secret program can easily restart a secret program. A country which can enrich for civilian purposes can easily transfer that knowledge to a military program. A country which has made statements that it's made about the security of our friend, Israel, is a country that needs to be taken seriously. And the international community must understand with clarity the threat that Iran provides to world peace.

And we will continue to work with European countries, Russia and China, as well as nations in this neighborhood, to make it abundantly clear the threat that Iran poses for world peace.

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Q: Mr. President, (inaudible) - Iran and Israel's finding about Iran are completely different than the NIE report. Given the duration and the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, thee is a fear, a concern in Israel that your administration will not take the necessary action against Iran.

And the question for Prime Minister Olmert: Did you perhaps present to Mr. Bush positions that run counter to those of the Americans, and perhaps you are concerned that what he said now actually indicates that his hands are tied when it comes to Iran.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me remind you what the NIE actually said. It said that as far as the intelligence community could tell, at one time the Iranians had a covert military program that was suspended in 2003 because of international pressure. My attitude is that a non-transparent country, a country which has yet to disclose what it was up to, can easily restart a program. The fact that they suspended the program is heartening in that the international community's response had worked. The fact that they had one is discouraging because they could restart it.

Secondly, there are three aspects to a weapons program. One is the capacity to enrich so that you can have the materials necessary to make a bomb. They're claiming they're enriching for civilian purposes. I believe that knowledge gained for civilian purposes could be transferred for military purposes. Therefore, our efforts are to stop them from enriching.

Secondly, the knowledge of how to convert any materials into a bomb. We don't know whether they have that knowledge or not. However, for the sake of peace, we ought to assume they do, and therefore, rally the world to convince other that they're a threat. Third, they've got missiles in which they can use to deliver the bomb. So no matter how you might have interpreted the NIE, I interpreted it to mean you better take the Iranians'
threat seriously.

Secondly, I have always told the American people that I believe it's incumbent upon the American President to solve problems diplomatically. And that's exactly what we're in the process of doing. I believe that pressure - economic pressure, financial sanctions - will cause the people inside of Iran to have to make a considered judgment about whether or not it makes sense for them to continue to enrich or face world isolation. The country is paying an economic price for its intransigence and its unwillingness to tell the truth.

The Iranian people - we have no qualm with Iranian people. I'm sure Israel doesn't either. It's people with a proud history and a great tradition. But they are being misled by their government. The actions of their government are causing there to be isolation and economic stagnation. People went into office saying, we promise you this and we promise you this economic benefit, but they're simply not being delivered. And so we'll continue to keep the pressure on the Iranians, and I believe we can solve this problem diplomatically.

PRIME MINISTER OLMERT: (As translated) We had a very thorough discussion, which, of course, also covered the Iranian subject, as President Bush said. We discussed all aspects of this issue, and of course, it goes without saying that we shared with one another what we know and what the Americans know when it comes to this topic. And without my sharing with you right now all the details, of course, despite the natural curiosity, which I appreciate, I believe that what has just been said now by the President of the United States is particularly important. The President of the largest power in the world, the most important power in the world, is standing right here, and he has said in no uncertain terms that Iran was a threat and remains a threat.

The fact that it has certain technological capacities is a fact. And through this, it is capable of realizing that potential and creating nuclear weapons. And considering the nature of the government there and the type of threats that they are voicing, one cannot possibly disregard that power, and we must do everything possible to thwart them.

Of course, the United States will decide for itself just what steps to take. I can only say one thing, namely, my impression based on this conversation, as well as previous talks that we had - and we talk quite frequently, apart from the face-to-face meetings - my impression is that we have here a leader who is exceptionally determined, exceptionally loyal to the principles in which he believes. He has proven this throughout his term in office in his preparedness to take exceptional measures in order to defend the principles in which he believes, and in his deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel.

Inasmuch as I could sum up all of these impressions this evening, I would say that I certainly am encouraged and reinforced, having heard the position of the United States under the leadership of George Bush, particularly on this subject.

Q: Mr. President, what action is the United States prepared to take if there is another confrontation with Iranian ships in the Strait of Hormuz? Your National Security Advisor this morning spoke about consequences if there was a repeat.

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PRESIDENT BUSH: The National Security Advisor was making it abundantly clear that all options are on the table to protect our assets.

She's referring to, Mr. Prime Minister, the fact that our ships were moving along very peacefully off the Iranian border in territorial water - international waters, and Iranian boats came out and were very provocative. And it was a dangerous gesture on their part. We have made it clear publicly, and they know our position, and that is, there will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple. And my advice to them is, don't do it.

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