US President George W. Bush Remarks on the Threat of Iran Acquiring Nuclear Weapons in an Interview with Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer of Yediot Ahronot (Excerpts)

January 2, 2008

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Q Mr. President, the Israeli people are worried, first and foremost, because of the danger that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons. Can you, Mr. President, assure the Israelis that such a danger will never occur under your watch?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I can assure the people of Israel and others in the Middle East that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a danger to world peace. I have said so very explicitly. I believe that the -- and I believe we have put in place a system that encourages pressure on the Iranians to come up with -- to either have a choice between isolation and financial difficulty, or a rational approach to what they claim is their sovereign right, which is the ability to have nuclear power.

Now, they have been untrustworthy, they have been unwilling to be transparent and open. And so our demands are to the Iranians, not only with our voice, but the voice of the international community thus far, is, you must be transparent, you must be open, and you -- because of your failure to report programs, that you cannot be trusted with the ability to learn how to enrich. And so my message to the Israeli people is, I fully understand the threat; that we spend a lot of time on this issue; and that we will continue to exert maximum pressure through the international community to peacefully resolve this issue.

Q I'm sure you've heard the report by the American intelligence --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I have -- (laughter.)

Q -- unfortunately for us, we followed it, too. How it affected the chances to stop Iran from becoming a danger?

THE PRESIDENT: Actually, if you study the report carefully, it basically said -- not basically -- it said that Iran had a secret program --

Q In the year 2003.

THE PRESIDENT: Right. But my message to the American people was, is that a non-transparent society that had a program could easily have another program. And therefore, the intensity of the effort must not decline, but must stay strong -- and the intensity of the effort being to prevent them from developing the know-how.

Secondly, there are three stages to the development of a nuclear weapon: one, materials out of which to make a weapon. That's why we've got to stop them from enriching, and that's where our focus is. Two, the ability to take materials and to make it into a warhead or a bomb. And we don't know their capacities at this point in time, but it's fairly general knowledge on how to produce a weapon out of materials. And three, rockets. Well, two of the three continue to exist. And therefore, to say a weapons program does not exist is not the complete truth. And so our focus is to prevent the one thing over which we believe the international community can have influence, which is to stop the capacity to enrich.

Thirdly, the report did say that as a result of pressures, the Iranians suspended their military program. Well, if pressures worked in the past, my hope is that pressures will work in the future. Part of the reason I'm going to the Middle East is to make it abundantly clear to nations in that part of the world that we view Iran as a threat, and that the NIE in no way lessens that threat, but in fact clarifies the threat.

Q If Israel comes with a smoking gun during the year 2008, are you going to back an Israeli operation -- military operation?

THE PRESIDENT: My message to all in the region is I believe we can solve this diplomatically, and that pressure must work. I have said, of course, that the United States keeps all options on the table. That's the United States's policy. And that -- but I believe the best solution is going to be one that encourages Iranian isolation through international pressures that will cause the Iranians to have to make a strategic choice. Now, people say, well, what do you mean by that? What kind of pressures? Well, there are financial pressures that we have exerted and will continue to work with others to exert.

Now, look, I readily recognize that one of the real challenges is to convince people that peace is more important than market share; that achieving long-term peace in the Middle East is more important than someone's companies having a share of equipment --

Q American or --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm saying any company. Of course, American companies are not involved with the exportation of goods and services to Iran. Therefore, in this case, I mean, the logic would say that extends to not only European countries, but countries from around the world. Same with financial institutions; that we expect there to be significant pressure placed upon Iranian financial institutions, particularly those that are known to be involved in proliferation.

And so the strategy is more than just words; it is an action-oriented strategy, aimed at convincing people inside of Iran that there's a better way forward. If you look at my speeches -- or listen to my speeches, you'll notice that I constantly speak to the Iranian people and make it clear to them that the isolation that they're now suffering and the economic deprivation that is occurring as a result of isolation is a result of their government's decisions. Our beef is not with the Iranian people. Our beef is with a government that has hidden the program -- and by the way, back to the NIE very quickly. The international response ought to be that, okay, whether or not you agree with the NIE or not, at least recognize that they had a program at one point in time, and demand that Iran explain it. We shouldn't be trying to explain why we know what we know. We ought to be focusing on the Iranians to say, you tell us why you had a program; you tell us about the -- if you want to be an international player, it's up to you to explain.

Q Mr. President, I'll try to put the question another way. If the Israeli Prime Minister will present you with a smoking gun, and will tell you, look, we can't live with such a threat and we'll destroy the Iranian nuclear sites, you will support Israel, you will give Israel, you will let Israel to do so?

THE PRESIDENT: The policy of the United States is to solve this diplomatically.

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