Vice President Dick Cheney today issued his sternest warning to date on Iran, saying the Persian nation will not be allowed to pursue its nuclear program.
Dismissing Iran's claims that it is seeking only nuclear energy and not a weapons program, Cheney accused Iranian leaders of pursuing a practice of "delay and deception in an obvious effort to buy time."
"Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions," Cheney told the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. "The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences."
The rising rhetoric could signal that President Bush intends to take action -- possibly military action -- to halt Iran's nuclear program before the president leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, some analysts said.
"That's pretty firm, clear language," Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst for the Brookings Institution, told ABC News of Cheney's wording. "And it raises more clearly the specter of military action. That is much more than saying this isn't just an option that we've taken off the table."
Cheney's statement bore a striking resemblance to this warning before an audience of Republicans on Jan. 31, 2003, less than two months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq: "We will not permit a brutal dictator with ties to terror and a record of feckless aggression to dominate the Middle East and to threaten the United States."
A spokeswoman for the vice president said his statements today echoed his previous comments on Iran.
On March 7, 2006, for instance, he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, "And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
And on May 11, 2007, he said, "We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region."
But analysts said the administration's talk on Iran has taken on a tone of rising warning and aggressiveness, particularly on a week that included an unusually strongly worded admonition from President Bush earlier this week.
"We got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel," Bush told reporters at the White House. "So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."