Stepping up pressure on Iran, United States Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday refused to rule out the use of force to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"It would be a serious mistake if a nation like Iran were to become a nuclear power," Cheney warned during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
"All options are still on the table."
Cheney said that the US was working with it allies to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear weapons programmes, and that it was Washington's preference for that to happen peacefully.
"The next step toward getting Iran to abandon its nuclear programmes was still being debated," he said.
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with The Australian daily, Cheney said Iran has sponsored terrorism in the Middle East, and he accused Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of espousing an "apocalyptic philosophy" and making "threatening noises about Israel and the US and others".
He said Iran was a sponsor of terrorism, especially through Hezbollah. However, the US did not believe Iran possessed any nuclear weapons as yet.
"You get various estimates of where the point of no return is," Cheney said, identifying nuclear terrorism as the greatest threat to the world.
"Is it when they possess weapons or does it come sooner, when they have mastered the technology but perhaps not yet produced fissile material for weapons?"
Cheney also encouraged further Australian involvement in Iraq: "The more allies we have and the more committed they are to the effort, the quicker we can anticipate success."
Cheney said the allied coalition could not afford to "anticipate failure" and said that the outcome in Iraq would affect not only US security
"We all have a stake in getting the right outcome in Iraq."
Earlier, in an address in Sydney to the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue, Cheney had emphasised the importance of the challenge of defeating Islamist terror, underlining the long-term nature of the struggle for the US and its allies.
"We have never had a fight like this, and it's not a fight we can win using the strategies from other wars," he said.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported yesterday that Iran had not only ignored a UN Security Council ultimatum to freeze the enrichment programme, but had expanded that programme by setting up hundreds of centrifuges.
In a concerted effort, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was due to meet with top European diplomats in London on Saturday.
In Ottawa yesterday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed hope that Russia would support a second Security Council resolution for sanctions against Iran to force an end to its nuclear programme, after talks with her Russian counterpart a day earlier.
The US, France and Britain have called for tougher Security Council sanctions on Tehran, while Germany, China and Russia have taken softer stances.
Iran says it cannot accept UN demands that it halt enrichment of uranium, because they are contrary to its rights under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.