White House

Cheney maintains hard line on Iran

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite the apparent halt of Iran's nuclear-weapons program four years ago, Vice President Dick Cheney said Friday that Iran remained a "concern" to the United States because it continued to enrich uranium and was still on Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Speaking to veterans at the National World War I Museum on the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Cheney urged U.S. allies to keep pressure on Tehran's government to "come clean about all its nuclear activities, past and present."

"Not everyone understands the threat of nuclear proliferation, in Iran or elsewhere," Cheney told members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "But we and our allies do understand the threat, and we have a duty to prevent it."

They were his first public remarks about Iran since Monday's release of a new National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.

The report was a major reversal of a 2005 NIE that concluded that Iran was "determined" to develop nuclear weapons despite the threat of international sanctions.

While Iran has halted its nuclear-weapons drive, the new NIE says, it could resume its quest and it has the scientific, technical and industrial capabilities to produce nuclear weapons eventually.

Cheney's remarks echoed comments that President Bush made at a White House news conference Tuesday, emphasizing that the administration isn't going to ease the pressure on Iran regardless of the new NIE conclusions.

"Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," Bush said.

Since the release of the NIE, administration officials have been scrambling to hold together a coalition of key U.S. allies who feared that Tehran was close to developing a nuclear weapon.

"Our concern is shared within the international community, including key powers seeking to solve the Iranian nuclear issue in the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France and Germany," Cheney told the VFW. "Together, we must keep the pressure on Iran to stop enriching uranium, and to come clean about all its nuclear activities, past and present."

The coalition showed some fraying earlier this week when China's ambassador to the United Nations said that Beijing might not support a third resolution on sanctions against Iran.

Cheney, in an interview Thursday with the Politico, conceded that the administration may have a hard time convincing some nations to continue taking a hard line against Iran given the conclusions of the new NIE.

"Perhaps, but it wasn't easy to begin with," he said.

In Friday's speech, Cheney lashed out at congressional Democrats, accusing them of trying to de-fund the war in Iraq, micro-manage operations there and set a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops at a time when Bush's "surge" plan is producing results.

Pulling out of Iraq would make the country a haven for terrorists, Cheney said, and undermine U.S. efforts to spread democracy throughout the Middle East.

"Congress is making a partisan struggle out of an issue that should not be partisan," Cheney said. "I don't believe people in this country want Congress to use defense appropriations as a bargaining chip in a political debate."