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Bush to back strike on Iran

Washington, Feb. 18: President George W. Bush added a new twist to the international tension over Iran's nuclear programme last night by pledging to support Israel if it tries to destroy the Islamic regime's capacity to make an atomic bomb.

Asked whether he would back Israel if it raided Tehran's nuclear facilities, Bush first expressed cautious solidarity with European efforts, led by Britain, France and Germany, to negotiate with Iran. But he quickly qualified himself, adding that all nations should be concerned about whether Iran could make nuclear weapons.

'Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened.'

His comments appeared to be a departure from the administration's line that there are no plans to attack at present and that Washington backs European diplomatic efforts. The remarks may have reflected Bush's personal thinking on an issue causing deep concern in Washington.

Moments later, Bush was asked another question on Iran and appeared to return to his script ' this time emphasising the need for a diplomatic effort.

Putin defence

President Vladimir Putin said today that he was convinced Iran was not trying to build a nuclear weapon and that Russia would press ahead with nuclear cooperation with the Islamic republic.

Putin's defence of Iran, where Russia is building a nuclear power plant, comes in the face of US concerns that Tehran could be using Russian knowhow to covertly build a nuclear weapon.

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