- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

JERUSALEM — The White House today issued a strong warning to Iran about an altercation between U.S. and Iranian ships last weekend, saying that Iran will “bear the consequences” for any similar incidents in the future.

“There will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple. My advice to them is, ‘Don’t do it,’” President Bush said this morning during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, on board Air Force One en route to Israel, said Iran’s actions came “very close to resulting in an altercation between our forces and their forces.

“And it’s a warning to them: They’ve got to be very careful about this, because if it happens again, they are going to bear the consequences of that incident,” Mr. Hadley said.

The incident occurred early Sunday in the Straight of Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf, when several Iranian boats conducted threatening maneuvers and told U.S. ships over the radio that they were going to explode.

The Pentagon yesterday released video and audio of the incident, which the Iranian government today said is “fabricated.”

But Mr. Hadley said that “the Iranians need to be on notice that they are fishing in troubled waters here.”

He clarified that his words were “not a threat,” but rather a “simply a description of facts and a description of the seriousness of what they did.”

Israeli leaders gave Mr. Bush a warm welcome as he arrived in Israel for the beginning of a week-long trip to six Middle East countries.

“I want to tell you in simple language: you came to a land and a people that loves deeply the United States of America, and without any reservation, said Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Mr. Peres also told Mr. Bush that he had “introduced character into politics.”

Mr. Bush arrived in Israel to help speed along peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, following on the U.S.-hosted talks in Annapolis, Md., in November.

Mr. Bush said during a meeting with Mr. Peres at the Israeli president”s house that he came with “high hopes” for the peace process.

But Mr. Bush also emphasized the U.S. role will continue to be a facilitating role.

“The role of the United States will be to foster the vision of peace,” Mr. Bush told Mr. Peres, with members of the Israeli negotiating team sitting nearby.

“The role of the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership is going to be the hard work necessary to define the vision,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Hadley said that Mr. Bush would “say some words that are encouraging to the process, but I don’t think you’re going to see him jumping into the middle of these negotiations.”

Mr. Bush will meet tomorrow with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and then have a follow up meeting with Mr. Olmert.

Both sides recommitted themselves in Annapolis to carry out their obligations under the road map, which calls in the first phase for Israel to lift restrictions on movements in the West Bank, pull its army back from around Palestinian towns and freeze all new settlement activity.

Some of the larger issues involved include the right of Israel to defend itself against terrorism, the future of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides, the negotiation of Israel”s border, and the right of Palestinian refugees in camps outside Israel to return.

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