Iran Nuclear NewsBush, at merchant academy, warns Iran on nuclear program

Bush, at merchant academy, warns Iran on nuclear program

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New York Times: On the day before he was to depart for a meeting with European allies in Vienna, President Bush issued a stiff warning to Iran on Monday, saying it should suspend its uranium enrichment program now or face “progressively stronger” economic sanctions and further political isolation.
The New York Times

By JIM RUTENBERG and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG

KINGS POINT, N.Y., June 19 — On the day before he was to depart for a meeting with European allies in Vienna, President Bush issued a stiff warning to Iran on Monday, saying it should suspend its uranium enrichment program now or face “progressively stronger” economic sanctions and further political isolation.

Mr. Bush reiterated the United States’ offer to join multinational talks with Iran, but only if it immediately ceased uranium production. If Iran rejects that offer, he said, “It will result in action before the Security Council, further isolation from the world and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.”

Still, he mixed his stern oratory with words of inducement. Speaking at a commencement ceremony at the United States Merchant Marine Academy here, he promised Iran that compliance would result in huge benefits for its economy and its people. He indicated that the United States was open to allowing Iran to develop civilian nuclear capacity, though under the proper “safeguards,” keeping the administration’s recent agreement on the possibility of future enrichment by Iran if it can provide sufficient proof that its program is peaceful.

White House aides said the address was in part meant to serve as a table-setter for discussions about the nuclear standoff with Iran that are expected as part of a broader agenda this week at the United States-European Union summit meeting.

“It’s in some way teeing up what is going to be a topic of conversation, one of many, at the European Union consultations this week,” Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, told reporters on the way here aboard Air Force One.

The talks about talks with Iran remain in a delicate place. The prospect of a deal hinges on Iran’s willingness to drop what it says is its sovereign right to develop nuclear power sources and on how the West will ultimately be willing to define the word “suspend.” Some of the negotiating partners have indicated a readiness to allow Iran to keep its centrifuges — which enrich uranium into a form that can fuel reactors or atom bombs — idle but online during talks. The United States has not shown any softening of its stand that the centrifuges must be completely shut down for talks to begin.

Officials signaled that their strategy this week would concentrate more on building a unified front with Europe in pressing Iran to suspend its program than it would on making any breakthrough with Iran.

While stressing unity with Europe, Mr. Bush reprised some of his tougher language about the Iranian political leadership, telling the graduates, “The leaders of Iran sponsor terror, deny liberty and human rights to their people, and threaten the existence of our ally, Israel.”

But, tapping into the internal politics of Iran with a message that seemed aimed at its more liberal intellectual classes, Mr. Bush praised its culture and civilization. “Through the centuries, Iranians have achieved distinction in medicine and science and poetry and philosophy, and countless other fields,” he said.

Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said that unless Iran responded to Mr. Bush’s offer while he was in Europe, the negotiations were unlikely to produce any developments. “At this point, the next step is really waiting for the response from the Iranian regime,” he said.

Mr. Bush would not be able to make great strides on Iran anyway, because he is meeting only with the core of the European Union leadership this week, not heads of state.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Monday that Iran would stand for nothing less than “unconditional” talks, though he continued to keep the door open to talks.

“The Islamic Republic has always wanted to negotiate and have dialogue on equal terms and with no preconditions,” state television quoted him as saying during a meeting that included Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But he had also said “the new proposal is a step forward.”

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will also certainly be on the president’s mind this week, but the United States’ main negotiating partners in those talks are not Europeans.

Mr. Bush also intends to use the meeting to press European countries to come to terms on a trade-expanding agreement under the so-called Doha round, named for the city in Qatar where the talks began. He also will call for European leaders to help collect billions of dollars in pledges to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq, as he said after his surprise trip to Baghdad last week that he would do.

“All nations that have pledged money have a responsibility to keep their pledges — and America and Europe will work together to ensure they do so,” Mr. Bush said here.

Europeans are pursuing their own agenda, with officials there hinting in the last week that they will probably push Mr. Bush to close the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He tacitly acknowledged the divisions during his address here, saying, “Others in Europe have had disagreements with our decisions on Iraq.” He added, “We agree that the success of a democratic government in Baghdad is vital for the Iraqis and for the security of the world.”

Jim Rutenberg reported from Kings Point, N.Y.for this article, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.

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