WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has said Iran's nuclear program remains a threat to peace and the United States will not allow Tehran to develop an atomic weapon.
The West has offered Iran diplomatic and economic incentives to suspend uranium enrichment and to support a civilian nuclear power program, Bush said in a speech he planned to give to the Saban Forum later on December 5.
"While Iran has not accepted these offers, we have made our bottom line clear: For the safety of our people and the peace of the world, America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," Bush said in the speech released by the White House.
Amid hopeful signs of political, economic and social reforms advancing in the Middle East, serious challenges remain, Bush said.
"Iran and Syria continue to sponsor terror, Iran's uranium enrichment remains a major threat to peace, and many in the region still live under oppression," he said.
Bush defended his decision to go to war against Iraq in March 2003 and topple Saddam Hussein, saying that after the September 11, 2001, attacks the United States could not risk the threat Baghdad posed at that time.
"It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks," Bush said.
But after nearly 3,000 people died in the September 11 attacks, the United States had to decide whether it could tolerate an enemy that supported terrorism and was believed to have weapons of mass destruction, and found "this was a risk we could not afford to take."
Weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion, and this is considered a major intelligence failure. Bush in a recent television interview said the faulty intelligence on Iraq was the biggest regret of his presidency.
"When Saddam's regime fell, we refused to take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place," Bush said. "Even though it required enormous sacrifice, we stood by the Iraqi people as they elected their own leaders and built a young democracy."
He acknowledged that efforts have not always gone according to plan and sometimes fell short, saying "the fight in Iraq has been longer and more costly than expected."