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“The United States, too, is not in a position where it can engage in, take another risk in the region,” he said. “Of course, there are people in the United States who are interested in that. But we think that the rational thinkers in the United States will prevent that action [from] being taken and will prevent the imposition of another adventuresome act that would put pressure on the American taxpayers.”

Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said Tehran will “react fiercely” if it is attacked.

Mr. Nozari also warned reporters at a conference in Spain that oil prices would shoot even higher in the event of such a military strike. Oil prices rose to record levels of $143 a barrel on Tuesday after ABC News reported that the chances of an Israeli strike against Iran have increased.

In his Pentagon news conference, Adm. Mullen seemed to buck the official U.S. intelligence community position when he said, “I believe they’re still on a path to get to nuclear weapons.”

The U.S. intelligence estimate on Iran, released in November, states, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” though that assessment was later qualified.

Adm. Mullen made his remarks after discussions in Israel with the Jewish state’s top national security figures. Israel thinks Iran is a lot closer to building a nuclear weapon than does the U.S. intelligence community.

Said Adm. Mullen, “My position with regard to the Iranian regime hasn’t changed. They remain a destabilizing factor in the region.” But he said the “consequences” of an attack on Iran “are very difficult to predict.”

Mr. Bush, seizing on the anxiety about the price of gas at the pump, pushed again for Congress to remove limitations on domestic oil drilling, including bans on such actions in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and along the outer continental shelf.

“It’s a tough period for American consumers. I mean, nobody likes high gasoline prices, and I fully understand why Americans are concerned about gasoline prices,” Mr. Bush said. “We have got the opportunity to find more crude oil here at home, in environmentally friendly ways, and they ought to be writing their Congress people about it.

“And yet, the Congress, the Democratically controlled Congress now has refused to budge. It makes no sense for, to watch these gasoline prices rise when we know we can help affect the supply of crude oil, which should affect the supply of gasoline prices,” the president said.

Democrats say that drilling domestically would take too long to have any real effect on gas prices and that the Bush administration needs to increase fuel capacity standards in automobiles and do more to speed along the development of alternative fuels.

Polls have shown, however, that public support for more domestic drilling is rising. When the president visited Little Rock, Ark., on Tuesday, the biggest reaction he received during a roundtable conversation with homeowners and credit counselors was when he said the U.S. should drill for more oil.

“Yes, sir,” said one woman, as several others murmured their assent.