Despite U.S. allegations that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, the administration is not considering a military option against Tehran because diplomacy has just started, President Bush told NBC News in an interview aired Tuesday on the "Today" show.
Asked if he would act preemptively against Iran just as he did against Iraq, the president said the Iraq war came only after "we had tried diplomacy" with Saddam Hussein for over a decade.
"The military option is always the last option for a president, not the first," Bush said, noting that the diplomatic effort was only starting in the case of Iran.
"We can work with others to continue sending a message [to Tehran]," Bush said. "We expect them to give up their nuclear ambitions."
The president also said he would have still waged war on Saddam had he known he didn't have weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Iraq.
"I would have made the same decision knowing what I know today," he said in the interview with NBC's Matt Lauer. "Saddam had the capability of making weapons, and he could have passed that capability on to an enemy."
A key argument made by Bush in seeking international support for the war was that U.S. intelligence indicated such stockpiles existed.
Asked why Iraqis aren't staging mass rallies to support the U.S.-backed transition, Bush attributed that to fear. "There's a certain expectation that we're not going to hold the course ... and therefore some are not willing to take the risk," fearing Saddam's regime will return.
The president instead pointed to Afghanistan, noting that after the U.S. invasion there the country is moving to free elections and that 10 million Afghanis have registered to vote.
"That's not exactly a million people coming out in the street," he acknowledged, "but 10 million people said, 'We want to be free.'"
NBC on Monday aired part of the interview in which the president said he thought terrorism would always be a war the United States would have to fight.
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