President Bush on Tuesday called on Iran to explain why it had a secretive nuclear weapons program, and warned that any such efforts must not be allowed to flourish "for the sake of world peace."
"Iran is dangerous," Bush said after an Oval Office meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. "We believe Iran had a secret military weapons program, and Iran must explain to the world why they had a program."
Bush's comments came after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that it was "a step forward" that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that Tehran stopped developing its nuclear weapons program four years ago.
Ahmadinejad told reporters that an "entirely different" situation between the United States and Iran could be created if more steps like the intelligence report followed.
"We consider this measure by the U.S. government a positive step. It is a step forward," Ahmadinejad said.
"If one or two other steps are taken, the issues we have in front of us will be entirely different and will lose their complexity, and the way will be open for the resolution of basic issues in the region and in dealings between the two sides," he said.
Iran has said its nuclear program is peaceful, but until last week, the United States and Western allies had countered that Iran was hiding plans for a bomb.
"Iran has an obligation to explain to the IAEA why they hid this program from them," Bush said, referring to the nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Iran is dangerous, and they'll be even more dangerous if they learn how to enrich uranium," Bush said. "So I look forward to working with the president," Bush said, referring to Napolitano, the Italian leader, "to explain our strategy and to figure out ways we can work together to prevent this from happening for the sake of world peace."
Bush's comments amounted to a renewed effort to keep pressure on Iran after the release of last week's National Intelligence Estimate. That report found that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and administration officials worry it could weaken their ability to build global pressure on Tehran to stop its uranium enrichment program.
That estimate cautioned that Tehran continues to enrich uranium and still could develop a bomb between 2010 and 2015 if it decided to do so.
It also concluded that it may be difficult to ultimately dissuade Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb because Iran believes such a weapon would give it international prestige and leverage to achieve its national security and foreign policy goals, the assessment concluded.
Iran is still enriching uranium for its civilian nuclear reactors that produce electricity. That leaves open the possibility that fissile material could be diverted to covert nuclear sites to produce highly enriched uranium for a warhead.
Napolitano said he and Bush broadly "share the same concerns, and we express a common commitment" on a variety of issues.
"We want to discuss, constructively, our positions on all questions in all tracks," he said. "We just want to give our contributions and our ideas on how to face, successfully, all threats, including the very serious threat of nuclear weaponization of Iran."
On Tuesday, diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are to discuss a draft plan for new United Nations sanctions against Iran. If passed by the Security Council, the plan would slap a third round of sanctions on Iran for defying international demands that it halt its enrichment of uranium.
"The agency report and the NIE are before the eyes of the international public opinion," Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on Tuesday. "There is no reason for the continuation of enmities and hostilities. The threats failed, they were not effective."
Bush took no questions from reporters after his meeting with Napolitano.