WASHINGTON – The United States is not ruling out using force to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons even as the U.N. Security Council is preparing to take up the Iranian nuclear problem this week, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told FOX News Talk's Tony Snow on Monday.
"The use of force is certainly an option that's out there," Bolton said in an interview that came on the heels of Iran's rejection of a deal with Russia designed to avoid U.N. sanctions and satisfy international concerns over Iran's march toward a nuclear weapons program.
"When you see the risk of a government led by a president like [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, a man who has denied the existence of the Holocaust, who has said Israel ought to be wiped off the map — imagining somebody like that with his finger on a nuclear button means that you can't take any option off the table if you believe, as President Bush does, that it's unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons."
Over the weekend, Iran rejected a Russian proposal that would have allowed Iran access to nuclear material, but Russia would have maintained control over key processes of uranium enrichment and waste disposal. The action is the latest in recent months of increasing tensions between Iran and its opponents.
The Security Council has not yet determined what action it will take, but China and Russia already have signaled they will oppose sanctions against Iran. On Monday, the council adjourned without adopting a statement calling on Iran to rein in its nuclear program, though it appeared unity is growing among the veto-weilding members that Iran needs to do more to help diffuse the situation.
Bolton said Monday that he did not believe that Iran had an active nuclear weapons system, but he said the Islamic regime will not stop until it achieves its goals of a nuclear weapons program.
"They're determined to acquire nuclear weapons, unless we can find a way to stop them. And what we're trying to do through peaceful and diplomatic means in the Security Council is put heat on it," Bolton said.
"As long as the hard-lined mullahs are in charge, we think they're determined to get them and we're determined to stop them," Bolton said.
Bolton said the preference among U.S. officials is a democratic regime, and referred to an announcement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to dedicate $75 million to supporting democracy-building from within and outside Iran.
"Once there's democracy, all kinds of things would be possible," Bolton said.
Bolton declined to predict whether the Security Council would pass or fail the test of handling Iran, but he raised questions over the U.N.'s ability to handle the growing crisis.
"This is a real test for the Security Council. There's just no doubt that for close to 20 years, the Iranians have been pursuing nuclear weapons through a clandestine program that we've uncovered," Bolton said.
"If the U.N. Security Council can't deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, can't deal with the greatest threat we have with a country like Iran — that's one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism — if the Security Council can't deal with that, you have a real question of what it can deal with," Bolton said.
Bolton noted that the United Arab Emirates — of which Dubai is a member — has been among the nations that have been helpful in dealing with the Iranian threat. Dubai Ports World, a UAE-owned company, announced last week it would divest itself of operations of some U.S. ports after meeting heavy opposition from Congress.
Bolton also discussed a number of other issues, including the U.N. response in Darfur, Sudan; the U.N. Human Rights Commission proposal; U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and institutional reforms at the world body.
Darfur, he said, would continue to be an area of U.S. focus for humanitarian aid despite opposition from other members. Asked about opposition from China, Russian and Qatar to intervention in Darfur, Sudan, Bolton said an overriding concern among U.N. members revolves around the role they would play in the region, but U.S. officials "think it's important to get a force in play that can prevent the continuing downward spiral of security" there.
He said international political games are getting in the way.
"There are a lot of political excuses and so on that many countries are imposing. We're saying look, we're worried about what's happening on the ground," Bolton said.
On the question of reforming the Human Rights Commission, Bolton said it's an embarrassment that the chairman of the commission is Libya and that Cuba and Zimbabwe are members who use the commission to "prevent the scrutiny of human rights, not to promote them."
But a current draft resolution to reform the commission does not please U.S. officials either.
"We're prepared to vote against the current draft resolution that's out there. ... We're determined to have substantial reform and we think the current discussions leave us without really much reform at all. If this is the best we can do, it's not good enough," Bolton said.
Bolton added that it's highly unlikely that Annan, who has been dogged by questions over the Oil-for-Food scandal — would seek another term after his current and second term expires on Dec. 31. He said the most "important" focus of the international organization will be on who follows Annan.
"Our focus now is on picking the next secretary-general, the person who will take office Jan. 1, 2007. That's probably the single most important decision we're going to make up here this year. ... You have to have somebody who's determined to work with us on these reform issues," Bolton said.
Bolton, who was given a recess appointment by President Bush in August 2004, must be renominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate if he is to stay in the job past next January.
Asked about whether he'd like to continue in his job, Bolton that he's "happy to stay here as long as he wants me to. I look at this one day at a time."
Bolton was also recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He said it would be a great honor but acknowledged that his chances of winning are slim.
"I think it would be a great opportunity to go over to Scandinavia and defend America and talk about why we're doing the right thing," Bolton said. But comparing his chances of winning to the Powerball lottery, he added, "Probably, I'd bank on the latter. If you got a couple spare bucks, go for the Powerball."