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*-- George W. Bush talks Iran, Hillary and 2016 in rare public discussion --*

LAS VEGAS (UPI) - Former President George W. Bush has plenty of opinions on a wide array of political questions -- from terrorism, Iran, Hillary Clinton and his brother's possible attempt to become the third member of their family to reach the White House.

The 43rd U.S. president engaged in a discussion at an hour-long question and answer session at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas Saturday evening. It was a rare public appearance for Bush, who has largely stayed out of the public eye since leaving office in 2009.

But, as was the case when he occupied the White House, Bush wasn't shy about offering his opinions on questions posed by the large invitation-only crowd.

Making a deal with Iran

Bush, like many Republicans, said he is opposed to the Obama administration's ongoing efforts at striking a deal with Iran to regulate its nuclear program.

Earlier this month, an agreement was reached between Tehran and Western powers on the framework of such a deal. U.S. officials are somewhat optimistic that a final deal can be reached, but negotiators only have until June 30 to get it done.

If ratified, the deal will also lift economic sanctions against Iran that have crippled the Middle Eastern nation's economy for years -- particularly its oil export revenue. Regardless of what a final deal may specify, Bush said he believes an agreement is not in the best interest of the United States.

"He said it's absurd to think you can eliminate certain sanctions and then snap it back, that once you get rid of certain sanctions, they are gone forever," one attendee of the closed-door session said, the Washington Post reported.

Bush also criticized Obama for seeking a deal because he said the Iranian government was on the verge of giving in to the West's demands for nuclear regulation, the New York Times reported.

Audience members indicated that Iran was the central topic during Saturday's event, which was attended by members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, an organization sharply critical of Obama's approach to Tehran and Israel.

The Islamic State is the new al-Qaida

Bush on Saturday also tackled the primary issue of his two-term presidency: terrorism. Many of those in the crowd said they sensed some deep passion on the matter, and at least a mild criticism of how President Barack Obama has handled it.

"You call in the military and say, 'Here's my goal. What's your plan to help me achieve that goal?" an attendee quoted Bush as saying, alluding to the president's perceived reluctance to follow through with threats of force.

"You gotta mean it," Bush reportedly said.

When asked what he feels should be done to deal with terrorists aimed to destroy the United States, he said simply, "well, you kill 'em."

Bush was visibly animated while discussing the Islamic State, audience members said, and called the group the "second act" of al-Qaida.

The 2016 candidate pool

The crowd at the Venetian Saturday included many Republican donors, who will be instrumental in determining whether the GOP can retake the White House next year. As the last Republican in office, Bush expressed optimism that his party can win in 2016 no matter who the Democratic nominee is -- even Hillary Clinton, who he called formidable but beatable.

Attendees said he gave a very optimistic political assessment and felt good about the GOP's pool of candidates. One of those candidates is his brother, Jeb, whose election would mark the first time in history that three members of the same family ascended to the presidency.

Some attendees said they were surprised by the former president's assessment of his brother's potential campaign. When asked what challenges Jeb's campaign might face, the former Texas governor identified one as his last name.

"He basically said being a Bush is a challenge," Republican Jewish Coalition chairman Norm Coleman said.

"He essentially said people don't want dynasties in America,"attendee Elise Weingarten recalled.

When discussing 2016, Bush also said he will not campaign for his brother because of the negative impact it could have.

"That's why you won't see me," he reportedly told the crowd.

Jeb Bush has not yet announced his candidacy, but political experts and those close to the former Florida governor say he's on the verge of entering the race.

But just as his involvement in his brother's campaign could be a liability, Bush said so could Clinton's involvement and efforts as part of Obama's cabinet.

"It's going to be hard for her to defend or support [her work in the Obama administration]," he reportedly said.


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