YORBA LINDA, Calif., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- In one of his most specific condemnations of the three "axis of evil" nations, Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that Iran and Iraq were active supporters of international terrorism and were also, along with North Korea, attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The vice president told an audience at the Nixon Library in Orange County, Calif., that nations that have been critical of the label applied to Iran, Iraq and North Korea should instead be putting pressure on the renegade regimes to renounce their support of terrorist groups and pull the plug on programs aimed at developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
"Each of these regimes has a choice to make and the international community should encourage all of them to make responsible choices and to do so with a sense of urgency," Cheney proclaimed. "We must also be prepared to stand together if they make the wrong choice."
Cheney's speech opened the second day of a four-day swing through California at the same time that President Bush has been in Asia. Coincidentally, the luncheon was held on the 30th anniversary of President Nixon's landmark trip to China.
The vice president's schedule takes him to the San Joaquin Valley on Wednesday and the San Francisco Bay area Thursday.
As he did Monday in San Diego, Cheney defended Bush's controversial State of the Union remarks about Iran, Iraq and North Korea making up an "axis of evil" that support terrorist groups such as al Qaida and the various rings battling the Israelis.
The concept of a U.S. enemies list has stirred up debate among critics both at home and abroad who are concerned that the United States will expand its war on terrorism -- particularly an attack on Iraq's Saddam Hussein -- without the support or approval of the rest of the world.
Cheney said that while the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan had scattered the al Qaida, there was still ample evidence that Iran and Iraq were active supporters of other terrorist groups operating in the Middle East and elsewhere.
He called Iran "a leading exporter of terror" while Iraq has both flaunted the United Nations by forging ahead with its weapons of mass destruction programs, and also had even formed its own terrorist group.
"Baghdad has publicly claimed to have a suicide-terrorist capacity in an organization called 'Fedayeen Saddam,' which is directed by Saddam's eldest son, Uday," Cheney said.
Fedayeen was founded by Uday in 1995 and is described by U.S. analysts as a paramilitary organization that enforces anti-smuggling laws and is fiercely loyal to Saddam. Uday, 38, has a reputation of being sadistic and ruthless and was nearly killed in an assassination attempt in 1996.
There has been no known evidence that any of the "axis" nations has engaged in plotting terrorist attacks, but Cheney declared that the days when countries could both harbor terrorists and have good diplomatic relations with the United States were over.
"Under the Bush Doctrine, if you harbor a terrorist, you are a terrorist," Cheney said. "If you feed or fund a terrorist, you are a terrorist and you will be held accountable."
The hawkish words went over swimmingly well at the luncheon with the nearly 200 graying, well-dressed attendees -- primarily couples -- who feasted on cold lobster tail appetizers, seared sea bass, chilled California chardonnay and a choice of white-chocolate desserts shaped as the Capitol dome or the White House.
The audience included members of the Orange County congressional delegation, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and a number of prominent Southern California Republicans.
During a post-lunch question-and-answer session with the audience, a woman identifying herself as a "naturalized American who was born and raised in Iran," asked Cheney how she could pass on information about fellow Iranian nationals suspected of being agents of the Tehran regime -- information she claimed the FBI and other authorities had not followed up on after she apparently had tried to initiate a tip.
"It's clear that organizations that have in the past pursued terrorist activities have found it easy to operate in the United States," Cheney said. "We're an open society that believes in freedom and live-and-let-live. All of those are all admirable traits, ... but it is also clear that others are taking advantage of that."
"If you want to send me what you've got," he proffered, "I'll see to it that it gets to the appropriate people."