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Cheney hints at Iran strike


By Greg Sheridan, Herald Sun

US Vice-President Dick Cheney has raised the possibility of military action to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

He has endorsed Republican senator John McCain's proposition that the only thing worse than a military confrontation with Iran would be a nuclear-armed Iran.

In an exclusive interview with The Weekend Australian, Mr Cheney said: "I would guess that John McCain and I are pretty close to agreement."

The visiting Vice-President said that he had no doubt Iran was striving to enrich uranium to the point where they could make nuclear weapons.

He accused Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of espousing an "apocalyptic philosophy" and making "threatening noises about Israel and the US and others".

He also said Iran was a sponsor of terrorism, especially through Hezbollah. However, the US did not believe Iran possessed any nuclear weapons as yet.

"You get various estimates of where the point of no return is," Mr Cheney said, identifying nuclear terrorism as the greatest threat to the world.

"Is it when they possess weapons or does it come sooner, when they have mastered the technology but perhaps not yet produced fissile material for weapons?"

Mr Cheney also condemned Kevin Rudd's plan to withdraw all Australian combat troops from Iraq. Although he did not mention the Opposition Leader by name, Mr Cheney said the withdrawal of Australian troops "would clearly be a disappointment from our standpoint".

He encouraged further Australian involvement: "The more allies we have and the more committed they are to the effort, the quicker we can anticipate success."

Mr Cheney said the allied coalition could not afford to "anticipate failure" and said that the outcome in Iraq would affect not only US security: "We all have a stake in getting the right outcome in Iraq."

The US, he said, would stay in Iraq until it "got the job done".

"We deeply appreciate Australia, the Brits and others who have been there from the beginning and made a contribution and have been willing to get into the fight with us."

Earlier, in an address in Sydney to the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue, Mr Cheney had emphasised the importance of the challenge of defeating Islamist terror, underlining the long-term nature of the struggle for the US and its allies.

"We have never had a fight like this, and it's not a fight we can win using the strategies from other wars," he said.

In his interview with The Weekend Australian, Mr Cheney said the US-Australian alliance was, based on his knowledge of the relationship, now closer than ever and that this was in part because of John Howard.

However, he believed that new institutional closeness between the US and Australia, as evidenced in new intelligence-sharing arrangements and in the trilateral security dialogue among the US, Japan and Australia, would outlast individual politicians.

Mr Cheney paid tribute to the Australian military contribution in Iraq and Afghanistan. He singled out the elite SAS for particular praise, saying: "The SAS troops are great. We like very much working with the Australians."

Mr Cheney, who is regarded as the most hardline member of the Bush administration, was unrepentant about the Iraq operation.

"The world's better off now that (Saddam Hussein) is dead and there's a democratically elected Government in his place in Baghdad," he said.

"The Iraqi people are well on the road to establishing a viable democracy.

"In the long term when we look back on this period of time that will be a remarkable achievement. We're not there yet. We've still got a lot to do."

Mr Cheney saw Mr Rudd yesterday afternoon and will spend today with John Howard. He will fly home tomorrow.

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