Cheney Leaves Open Military Option Against Iran

Friday, February 23rd 2007, 10:13 pm

By: News On 6

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Vice President Dick Cheney renewed Washington's criticism of Iran on Saturday, saying ``all options'' remained on the table to deal with that country's regime after it ignored a U.N. deadline to halt uranium enrichment and said it would defy foreign pressure.

At a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Cheney also said that Washington was ``comfortable'' with Britain's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq and that it was up to Australia to decide if it would do the same.

Cheney said the United States remained ``deeply concerned'' about Iran's activities, including the ``aggressive'' sponsoring of terrorist group Hezbollah and inflammatory statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He said top U.S. officials would meet soon with European allies to decide the next step toward planned tough sanctions against Iran for its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

``We worked with the European community and the United Nations to put together a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and resolve the matter peacefully, and that is still our preference,'' Cheney said.

``But I've also made the point, and the president has made the point, that all options are on the table,'' he said.

The White House has previously made similar comments.

``We believe it would be a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran became a nuclear power,'' he said.

Iran says its atomic program is aimed solely at generating energy, but the United States and some of its allies suspect it is geared toward making nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Thursday that Iran had not only ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze the enrichment program, but had expanded that program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges. Enriched uranium fuels nuclear reactors but, enriched further, is used in nuclear bombs.

The IAEA report came after the expiration Wednesday of a 60-day grace period for Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that Iran would resist ``all bullies,'' and appeared to dismiss the IAEA report, saying it was of no importance if countries did not believe Iran's nuclear activities were peaceful.

On Iraq, Cheney sidestepped a question about whether the White House had asked the British government to redeploy troops into another part of Iraq rather than withdraw them.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has outlined a plan to withdraw about 1,600 troops from southern Iraq in the coming months, and to reduce Britain's 7,100-strong contingent further by late summer.

``They have to make decisions with respect to their forces based upon what they think makes sense,'' Cheney said.

``They are going to continue to have a major presence there. They are also, I believe, beefing up their operations in Afghanistan,'' Cheney said. ``So we are very comfortable with that decision.''

Britain said Friday it will increase its troop strength in Afghanistan to bolster NATO forces battling Taliban militants. British media reported 1,000 additional soldiers would join the more than 5,000 British troops already in Afghanistan.

Cheney declined to say if he had asked Howard during talks held Saturday to add to the 1,400 troops Australian has in and around Iraq.

``Those decisions are obviously to be made by the Australian government based on their considerations as well as ... the conditions on the ground in that part of the world,'' Cheney said. ``It's not for us to stress to our allies what their appropriate response might be.''

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