NASHVILLE -- President Bush vowed yesterday that the United States would defend Israel militarily if needed against Iran and denounced Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for ''menacing talk" against Israel.
In an interview aboard Air Force One en route to Nashville, Bush said he saw a ''very good chance" the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency would refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
''I am concerned about a person that, one, tries to rewrite the history of the Holocaust, and two, has made it clear that his intentions are to destroy Israel," he said.
''Israel is a solid ally of the United States, we will rise to Israel's defense if need be. So this kind of menacing talk is disturbing. It's not only disturbing to the United States, it's disturbing for other countries in the world as well," he added.
Asked whether he meant the United States would rise to Israel's defense militarily, Bush said: ''You bet, we'll defend Israel."
Ahmadinejad has prompted international condemnation for anti-Israel rhetoric, including saying it should be wiped off the map, and also calling into question the Holocaust.
Israel has for decades been rewarded with annual US military aid packages, surpassed now only by military aid to Iraq. It is set to receive some $2.3 billion in US military aid this fiscal year.
Iran is engaged in a standoff over its nuclear program. Tehran insists its program is aimed at developing nuclear power and the United States and other international powers charge it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Asked whether he thought the atomic energy agency will refer Iran to the Security Council, Bush said: ''The IAEA must take a look at the facts, and listen carefully to the arguments, and there's a very good chance it will."
Bush said not only should Iran be barred from enriching uranium, it should not even be able to learn how to enrich uranium, because it could then learn how to make a weapon. But he said it was acceptable with him for Tehran to have civilian nuclear power under the condition that the spent fuel be taken away to another country, a proposal Russia has made and which Bush supports.