US President George W. Bush Comments on Iranian Threat During a Roundtable with Foreign Print Media (Excerpts)

January 4, 2008

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Q -- historic opportunity. You talked about the regional security. And back in the Gulf States, the number one issue nowadays, in terms of security of the region, is the Iranian nuclear profile and issue. And we'd like to know your position on that now, the development of that. The region is nervously -- nervous about having another war, confrontation, on the one hand; yet they are also very nervous about the Iranians possessing the nuclear weapons. And I'd like to follow up on that.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. First of all, the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, ought to be viewed as a clear signal that Iran is a threat to peace, that -- the NIE said the following things: One, the Iranians had a covert military nuclear weapons program, and that international pressure caused them to suspend the program.

There are three elements to a nuclear weapons program: One, the ability to enrich uranium that can be converted into the basis of a bomb; secondly, the know-how to be able to assemble that enriched material into a bomb; and third, the capacity to deliver the weapon through rocketry. As far as we know, two of those programs still are ongoing. One is the rocketry program. Two, there is a civilian enrichment program. And the danger of a civilian enrichment program is once that knowledge is gained, that it could be easily transferred back to a covert military program. And therefore, the NIE should be a clear signal to all of us that Iran is a threat to peace. And they're a threat to peace because they have been non-transparent. They have not lived up to their obligations under the IAEA. They have not been truthful about their program.

And so one of my messages is that I, too, take the Iranian issue seriously, and that we have a plan to deal with it in a diplomatic way. It's important for the people in the region to know that while all options remain on the table, that I believe we can solve this problem diplomatically, and the way to do that is to continue to isolate Iran in the international community.

My message to the Iranian people is that there's a better way forward for you; that your government has made decisions that have caused you to be isolated from the world, have caused there to be economic deprivation, because they refuse to be transparent and open about their enrichment programs.

And so I understand this is an issue and it's going to be an agenda item on my travel. It's not going to be the only item, of course. The Middle Eastern peace process is something that will be on the leaders' minds. The commitment of the United States to remain active in the region will be on their minds. I'm sure that these leaders fear that the United States may become isolationist and basically throw up its hands and say, who cares what happens. I will remind them that what happens in parts of the world matters to the security of the United States of America, and that we look forward to being a constructive force and working with allies like allies should do.

And so I'm sure the subject will come up, and I'm looking forward to clarifying once again our position.

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Q -- whose middle name is actually "conspiracy" -- that everything seems to be going for the mullahs' regimes in Iran, over the past 20 years of the United States strategy. The United States had eliminated the northern ideological enemy of Iran, USSR; the eastern sectarian enemy of Iran, Taliban regime; the old-time foe, Saddam Hussein in the west, without having -- for the Iranians to resume the eight long war -- eight-year-long war, and everything seems to be going their way. And yet at the same time, here we are, as true allies, we want to have sort of a clear strategy of what exactly are we to adopt with our main ally, the United States of America --

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that.

Q -- in terms of the confrontation of the threat for peace that is coming from Iran.

THE PRESIDENT: What you've just described is one way to look at it. I look -- let me look at it a different way, that now on the Iranian border exists a democracy, with a constitution that is the most modern constitution written in the Middle East; a democracy that is beginning to grow in confidence; a democracy that will recognize the rights of all citizens within its border; a democracy that will be responsive to the people, which stands in stark contrast to the system of government in Tehran that's not a democracy, it is in many ways a theocracy.

Secondly, there is a -- within Iran there is -- I mean, Iraq there's a different attitude of the Shia. There's a quietus school; there's a school that says religion definitely has a part in society, but religion isn't going to run government, which is a -- it's just an interesting way to view the neighborhood. Secondly, Afghanistan is now a democracy, a functioning democracy. Are these easy situations? No, they're difficult situations. Democracy takes a while to grow and flourish. But nevertheless, there is a competing form of government in Afghanistan, a different kind of form of government in Afghanistan.

Thirdly, Russia is very much engaged in the region. Russia has been helpful with Iran. Russia has supported the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Russia put forth an interesting proposal, which I've supported, that said, if you want to have a civilian nuclear program, you say your program is civilian in nature, there's no need for you to enrich because we'll provide the fuel for you. In other words, Russia has basically taken that argument away from the Iranians that said, we are -- have the sovereign right to have a civilian nuclear program, and they said, fine.

This, by the way, I have said publically; of course they have a sovereign right to have a civilian nuclear program. The problem is, because this nation did not level with the IAEA, they are to be not trusted with the capacity to enrich, because once you learn to enrich, you could easily transfer that to a covert military program.

And so I view the situation differently, and I will be -- I'm looking forward to talking to the Amir about it. What he'll want to know is whether or not we take the Iranian threat seriously. That's what he's going to want to know. And, as my first answer to the question was, it should be clear to you I do. And, secondly, he's going to want to know, do we have a strategy to deal with it? And I'll be glad to lay out again the strategy to deal with it. And thirdly, he'll want to know whether or not the United States is going to remain active in the region; will we be working with friends and allies on developing a security plan? And the answer to that question is, absolutely, we will be. That's one of the main purposes of the trip, to talk about U.S. commitment to the region.

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