Bush urges Putin to help keep pressure on Iran

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WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) US President George W Bush urged Vladimir Putin to help keep the pressure on Iran after the Russian leader voiced skepticism about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Bush's telephone call to Putin, who has resisted a US-led push to toughen UN sanctions against Iran, followed the Russian president's visit to Tehran and Bush's controversial remark that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three.

''President Bush reiterated the importance of continuing to apply pressure through the United Nations to insist on verifiable Iranian suspension of its nuclear enrichment activities,'' White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said yesterday.

Trying to shore up international opposition to Iran, the Bush administration has recently sharpened its rhetoric in the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program. Western nations accuse Iran of seeking to build atomic bombs under cover of a civilian program, which Tehran denies.

Bush has insisted he wants a diplomatic solution, although he has not ruled out military action if all else fails.

In remarks on Sunday, US Vice President Dick Cheney said the world could not stand by and allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

But the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said in an interview that Iran would need three to eight years to make a nuclear bomb, allowing time for negotiations.

The White House said Bush discussed with Putin his visit to Tehran last week. Putin made clear during the trip that Moscow would not accept any military action against Iran.

Bush had said he would ask Putin to clarify his remarks on Iran's nuclear activities.

Putin said recently that Russia, which is building Iran's first atomic power plant, would ''proceed from the position'' that Tehran was not developing nuclear weapons but he shared concerns its programs be open to international scrutiny.

Bush told a news conference last week, ''I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War Three, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.'' Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid criticized Bush for raising the specter of world war, saying the comment was ''so unnecessary.'' Bush is pushing for a third round of UN sanctions against Iran. Russia, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, backed two sets of limited UN sanctions against Iran but has resisted any tough new measures.

Reuters AK VP0415

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