Reuters: U.S. President George W. Bush told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday that Iran was an "existential threat to peace" and said the world must take that danger seriously.
Jeffrey Heller and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON, June 4 (Reuters) – U.S. President George W. Bush told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday that Iran was an "existential threat to peace" and said the world must take that danger seriously.
The White House talks came a day after Olmert — on a U.S. trip while under criminal investigation at home — issued his toughest warning yet to Tehran, saying Iran's nuclear program must be stopped by "all possible means."
Echoing Israeli leaders' frequent description of a nuclear-armed Iran as a risk to Israel's survival, Bush said at the start of the meeting: "It is very important for the world to take the Iranian threat seriously, which the United States does."
Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear weapons power, regards Iran as its chief foe in the region.
Bush, who has led a campaign of international sanctions against Iran, accuses Tehran of nuclear arms ambitions. Iran insists its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.
Bush assured Olmert, facing calls for his resignation over a corruption scandal that could disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, of the U.S. commitment to the Jewish state.
Olmert, at Bush's side in the Oval Office, agreed that Iran poses "the main threat to all of us."
Bush also said the two would discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts launched last November at an international conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
But neither leader repeated the goal of U.S.-sponsored negotiations reaching a peace deal, including agreement on Palestinian statehood, before Bush leaves office in January, a deadline viewed with broad skepticism.
In the occupied West Bank, Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qurie said it would take a "miracle" to meet that target.
Peace prospects have dimmed amid Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, violence on Israel's border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and a criminal investigation of Olmert.
The Israeli leader faces calls to resign over allegations he took envelopes stuffed with cash from a Jewish-American businessman.
Olmert, the chief negotiating partner to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has denied any wrongdoing but has said he would step down if indicted.
The White House has called the scandal an Israeli political matter while insisting Olmert is not the only Israeli leader committed to the peace process. Bush wants to forge a foreign policy legacy defined by more than just the unpopular war in Iraq. (Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)