The US and other nations will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, US Vice President Dick Cheney said.
"Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions," Cheney said in a speech on Sunday to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
He said Iran's efforts to pursue technology that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon are obvious and that "the regime continues to practice delay and deceit in an obvious effort to buy time."
If Iran continues on its current course, Cheney said the US and other nations are "prepared to impose serious consequences." The vice president made no specific reference to military action.
"We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said.
Cheney's words escalated the US rhetoric against Iran over the past several days, including US President George W. Bush's warning that a nuclear Iran could lead to "World War III."
Cheney said the ultimate goal of the Iranian leadership is to establish itself as the hegemonic force in the Middle East and undermine a free Shiite-majority Iraq as a rival for influence in the Muslim world.
Iran's government seeks "to keep Iraq in a state of weakness to ensure Baghdad does not pose a threat to Tehran," Cheney said.
While he was critical of the Iranian government and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, he offered praise and words of solidarity to the Iranian people.
Iran "is a place of unlimited potential ... and it has the right to be free of tyranny," Cheney said.
Cheney accused of Iran of having a direct role in the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq and said the government has "solidified its grip on the country" since coming to power in the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah.
The US and some allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and have demanded it halt uranium enrichment, an important step in the production of atomic weapons. Oil-rich Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Bush suggested that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, it could lead to a new world war.
"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 [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," Bush said.
Bush's spokeswoman later said the president was not making any war plans but rather "a rhetorical point."
On Thursday, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen said the US has the resources to attack Iran if necessary.
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