The United States and other nations will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said.
"Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions," Cheney said in a speech Sunday to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
He said Iran's efforts to pursue technology that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon are obvious and that "the regime continues to practice delay and deceit in an obvious effort to buy time."
If Iran continues on its current course, Cheney said the U.S. and other nations are "prepared to impose serious consequences." The vice president made no specific reference to military action.
"We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said.
Cheney's words seemed to only escalate the U.S. rhetoric against Iran over the past several days, including President George W. Bush's warning that a nuclear Iran could lead to "World War III."
Cheney said the ultimate goal of the Iranian leadership is to establish itself as the hegemonic force in the Middle East and undermine a free Shiite-majority Iraq as a rival for influence in the Muslim world.
Iran's government seeks "to keep Iraq in a state of weakness to ensure Baghdad does not pose a threat to Tehran," Cheney said.
While he was critical of the Iranian government and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, he offered praise and words of solidarity to the Iranian people. Iran "is a place of unlimited potential ... and it has the right to be free of tyranny," Cheney said.
Cheney accused of Iran of having a direct role in the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and said the government has "solidified its grip on the country" since coming to power in the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah.
The U.S. and some allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and have demanded it halt uranium enrichment, an important step in the production of atomic weapons. Oil-rich Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.
At a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Bush suggested that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, it could lead to a new world war.
"I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush's spokeswoman later said the president was making not making any war plans but rather "a rhetorical point."
Also, on Thursday, the top officer in the U.S. military said the U.S. has the resources to attack Iran if needed despite the strains of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said striking Iran is a last resort, and the focus now is on diplomacy to stem Iran's nuclear ambitions, but "there is more than enough reserve to respond" militarily if need be.
The Bush administration's intentions toward Iran have been the subject of debate in Congress.
Last month the Senate approved a resolution urging the State Department to label Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.
Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat, said he feared the measure could be interpreted as authorizing a military strike in Iran, calling it Cheney's "fondest pipe dream."