The White House says President George W. Bush was simply making "a rhetorical point" when he suggested that if Iran could make nuclear weapons, it could lead to World War III.
"The president was not making any war plans, and he wasn't making any declarations," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Thursday. "He was making a point, and the point is that we do not believe - and neither does the international community believe - that Iran should be allowed to pursue nuclear weapons."
If Iran acquired nuclear weapons, she said, "that would lead to a very dangerous - a potentially dangerous situation, and potentially lead to a scenario where you have World War III. But he was using that as a rhetorical point, not, you know, making a declaration."
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to build nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies.
Bush, at a news conference on Wednesday, said, "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."
Iran denounced Bush's comment. "This sort of policy will jeopardize peace and security at the international level, and is a barrier for peace," the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said in a statement.
Hosseini said Bush was resorting to "warlike rhetoric" to divert the American public's attention from White House failures on international issues such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969