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US open to military option against Tehran, Cheney says

Israel denies talk of it attacking Iran nuclear sites

SYDNEY -- US Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday warned that "all options" are on the table if Iran continues to defy UN-led efforts to end Tehran's nuclear ambitions, leaving the door open to military action.

Cheney criticized Iran's defiance of a UN deadline for freezing its uranium enrichment programs. The White House is seeking a peaceful resolution, Cheney said, but he did not rule out force.

In Jerusalem yesterday, Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy defense minister, denied a news report that Israel was talking with the United States about possibly using Iraqi airspace if Israel decides to attack Iranian nuclear sites.

Britain's Daily Telegraph, citing an unnamed Israeli defense official, said Israel had sought use of the air corridor from the Pentagon.

Cheney, in a series of blunt and sometimes biting statements during a visit to Asia and Australia, defended the Iraq war, attacked administration critics at home, and warned that the United States would confront potential adversaries abroad.

His visit was meant to thank Australia and Japan for their support in Iraq. But a series of public appearances and media interviews, Cheney's tone was typically feisty.

Answering growing criticism in the United States and Australia, he defended the Iraq war as a "remarkable achievement" in one speech and dismissed suggestions that his influence in Washington is waning.

Cheney's support for the Iraq war -- he is considered one of the key proponents of the 2003 invasion -- drew protesters into Sydney's streets for two days.

But the crowds were small and the clashes brief, and Cheney enjoyed a generally warm welcome, including lunch at Prime Minister John Howard's harborside mansion and a cruise past the Sydney Opera House.

Yesterday he held talks with Howard -- who at one point felt compelled to defend his friendly relations with the White House.

In Japan, Cheney asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opposition to President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq would "validate the Al Qaeda strategy."

A furious Pelosi complained to the White House that Cheney was impugning the patriotism of critics of the war. Cheney refused to back down: "I said it and I meant it," he told ABC News. "I didn't question her patriotism, I questioned her judgment."

Cheney also spoke bluntly on Friday when he discussed North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and China's rapid modernization of its 2.3 million-strong military forces.

Noting that China -- an emerging economic power -- had hit a defunct weather satellite with a missile last month, Cheney said some of the country's actions were at odds with its pledge to develop peacefully.

In the same speech, though, he praised China for its help in persuading North Korea to seal its main nuclear reactor in exchange for oil. But Cheney added that North Korea had "much to prove," namely that it would honor the deal.

Michael McKinley, an analyst of Australia-US relations at Australian National University, said Cheney's association with an Iraq policy that many see as a failure has made him unpopular, but it is too soon to write off the vice president's influence.

Cheney is still a force in the White House, McKinley said, and "in the area of foreign and defense policy, he is the power."

During Cheney's visit to Australia -- one of the United States' staunchest allies in Iraq -- he said history would ultimately judge the war a success, pointing to the end of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and Iraq's democratic elections. The United States, he said, has put Iraq "well on the road to establishing a viable democracy."

Cheney told ABC News that media speculation that he had lost influence within the Bush administration was inaccurate, just as earlier speculation that he was the all-powerful was wrong.