Jerusalem Says Iranian Nuclear Push Continuing

Israeli officials said yesterday that their assessment of Iran's nuclear program differed greatly from the U.S. intelligence report published on Monday.

"Iran has not stopped trying to get a bomb," a senior military source told Haaretz yesterday. "[Iran] has hidden many [of its actions] and is continuing to produce uranium. It's very determined over the nuclear issue."

Israel sent a message to the U.S. administration through diplomatic channels asking Washington to clarify its stance toward the Iranian nuclear program.

U.S. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, is expected to make his first presidential visit to Israel next month.

The visit will focus on advancing Israeli-Palestinian talks that were at the center of last week's Annapolis peace conference.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said last night that they had not yet received official confirmation of the visit, but that they expected it to take place as part of the president's planned tour of the Gulf states.

The visit will be Bush's first visit to Israel since he took office seven years ago and he was recently criticized in the U.S. media for not having visited the country. Bush toured Israel in 1998 when he was governor of the state of Texas. In contrast to Bush's failure to travel, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Israel three times in the six-week period leading up to the Annapolis summit.

Last week, Haaretz reported that Bush had been invited to visit the country next year as part of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations.

In a press conference yesterday, Bush said that he viewed the intelligence report into Iran's nuclear program as "a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

Israeli government officials expressed satisfaction with these remarks, saying that they balanced National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's earlier "weak" statement.

"We discussed this report with leaders of the [U.S.] administration," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters. "It is vital to pursue efforts to prevent Iran from developing a capability like this and we will continue doing so along with our friends the United States."

"Bush put things in the right proportions and showed that Israel is not alone and that attempts to impose further sanctions on Iran are not over yet," a senior Israeli diplomat said. "Israel's and the U.S.'s policies are perfectly aligned." Israeli diplomats plan to share information and military intelligence assessments with the U.S. concerning Iran's nuclear program that refute the new intelligence report.

They admitted that intelligence cooperation between the two countries was not perfect and that there were "differences in interpretation between the two sides over the same information."

"Iran does not need a nuclear reactor for energy," an IDF source told Haaretz. "It has an endless supply of oil."