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US offers assurance on Iran

WASHINGTON -- At a potential turning point in its war in Iraq, the Bush administration paused yesterday to huddle with worried ally Israel over the crisis in Iran and to take stock of other Mideast trouble spots.

Israel fears that political fallout from the Republican election losses and rising calls for US engagement with Iran may soften President Bush's resolve against a country whose president has said the Jewish state should be wiped from the map. Bush offered some reassurance on Iran during an Oval Office meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"I recognize the threat to world peace that the Iranians . . . pose, as does the prime minister," Bush told reporters following the 90-minute meeting.

Olmert's White House meeting, his first since an inconclusive war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon weakened his own political footing at home, also covered the deteriorating political situations in the Palestinians territories and in Lebanon, according to US and Israeli officials. Iraq was a topic, but Israelis made clear that Iran's influence and support for terrorism was foremost on Olmert's mind.

"The Iran issue was the main issue on the table," Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin told reporters after the session. "Talking about what you do with this combination, what do you do with a president who not only backs terror but is actively pursuing nuclear weapons?"

The United States alleges that Iran has a rogue nuclear weapons program and is pressing for United Nations Security Council sanctions to punish Iran if it will not scale back nuclear fuel production. Iran denies that it is trying to build nuclear weapons.

The nuclear threat has been the focus of recent US concern about Iran. But Iran also has influence in neighboring Iraq and the potential to undermine American goals for a unified Iraqi government up to the task of running the country.

"There is no question that the Iranian threat is not just a threat for Israel, but for the whole world," Olmert said following the session with Bush.

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