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Report: White House debates strategy on Iran

By Xinhua

Washington : U.S. President George W. Bush and his cabinet members are having debate over whether the strategy on Iran has any hope of reining in nuclear program of the Islamic republic, the New York Times reported Saturday.

    Quoting unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said the debate has pitted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her deputies against the few remaining hawks inside the administration, especially those in the office of Vice President Richard Cheney.

    Cheney's aides are pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities while Rice and her supporters emphasize to press Iran to give up its nuclear program in a diplomatic way.

    Rice and her deputies appear to be winning so far, the report said.

    One year ago, President Bush and Rice announced a new strategy for the United States to join forces with Europe, Russia and China to press Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

    In response, however, Iran has installed more than 1,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, and the International Atomic Energy Agency predicted that 8,000 or so could be spinning by the end of the year.

    Those numbers are at the core of the debate over whether Bush should warn Iran's leaders that he will not allow them to get beyond some yet-undefined milestones, leaving the implication that a military strike on the country's facilities is still an option, the newspaper said.

    Rice for now has increasingly moved toward the European position that the diplomatic path is the only real option for Bush. But Cheney believed that Rice's diplomatic strategy was failing, and that by next spring Bush might have to decide whether to take military action, the New York Times quoted people close to Rice and Cheney as saying.

    Bush has publicly vowed that he would never "tolerate" a nuclear Iran, and the question at the core of the debate within the Bush administration is when and whether it makes sense to shift courses.

    Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns was quoted as saying that negotiations with Tehran could still be going on when Bush leaves office in January 2009.

    The hawks of the Bush administration were deeply unhappy, but not surprised, by Burns' assessment, which they interpreted as a tacit acknowledgement that the Bush administration had no "red line" beyond which Iran would not be permitted to step, the newspaper said.