Bush Vows to Prevent Iran From Acquiring Nuclear Arms|
President Says Tehran Wants to
'Destroy People;' Cannot Be Trusted to Enrich Uranium
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008; 12:46 PM
President Bush said the Iranian government has "declared they want to have a
nuclear weapon to destroy people" and vowed that the United States would be
"firm" in preventing Tehran's acquisition of such arms.
In interviews yesterday to mark the Iranian new year, Bush said Iran has a right to build civilian nuclear power plants but that
the government cannot be trusted to enrich uranium, according to White House
transcripts released today. Different types of enriched uranium can be used as
fuel for nuclear reactors or as fissile material for atomic bombs.
"The Iranians should have a civilian nuclear power program. It's in their
right to have it," Bush told Radio Farda, a U.S.-funded radio station that
broadcasts to Iran in Farsi, the Iranian language.
"The problem is the government cannot be trusted to enrich uranium because
one, they've hidden programs in the past and they may be hiding one now, who
knows; and secondly, they've declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to
destroy people -- some in the Middle East," Bush said. "And that's unacceptable
to the United States, and it's unacceptable to the world."
Washington has long suspected that Iran wants to use its civilian nuclear
power program as cover for an effort to build nuclear weapons. But the Iranian
government has not publicly declared a desire to obtain such weapons. In fact,
Iranian leaders have said the opposite, repeatedly insisting that they do not
want nuclear arms and asserting that their nuclear program is intended only to
Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security
foundation specializing in nuclear policy, called Bush's statement "uninformed"
"Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason," he said.
"It's just not true."
Asked to explain Bush's comment, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said
he spoke in "shorthand," combining Iranian threats against Israel with concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
"The president was referring to the Iranian regime's previous statements
regarding their desire to wipe Israel off the map," Johndroe said. "The
president shorthanded his answer with regard to Iran's previously secret nuclear
weapons program and their current enrichment and ballistic missile testing."
In an October 2005 speech to a conference on a "World without Zionism,"
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted by a state-run Iranian news
agency as agreeing with a statement by Iran's late spiritual leader, Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, that "Israel must be wiped off the map." Iran's foreign
minister later said the comment had been incorrectly translated from Farsi and
that Ahmadinejad was "talking about the [Israeli] regime," which Iran does not
recognize and wants to see collapse.
According to Farsi-speaking commentators including Juan Cole, a professor of
Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan, Ahmadinejad's exact quote
was, "The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the
page of time." Cole has written that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the
"Nazi-style extermination of a people," but was expressing the wish that the
Israeli government would disappear just as the shah of Iran's regime had
collapsed in 1979.
In December, a U.S. intelligence review concluded that Iran stopped work on a
suspected nuclear weapons program four years earlier, reversing a previous
assessment that Iran was determined to acquire nuclear arms.
In the wake of the new National Intelligence Estimate, Bush warned that Iran
nevertheless remains "dangerous." He pointed to the review's finding that the
Iranian military was secretly working to develop nuclear weapons before
suspending the program in the fall of 2003.
In his interview with Radio Farda, Bush said there was "a chance that the
U.S. and Iran can reconcile their differences, but the government is going to
have to . . . make different choices." He said one choice "is to verifiably
suspend the enrichment of uranium, at which time there is a way forward."
Bush added, "The Iranian people have got to understand that the United States
is going to be firm in our desire to prevent the nation from developing a
nuclear weapon, but reasonable in our desire to see to it that you have civilian
nuclear power without -- you know, without enabling the government to
Saying that Iran has "not told the truth in the past," Bush argued that it
was therefore "very difficult for the United States" and other nations to trust
the government in Tehran.
He expressed support for a Russian proposal to provide enriched uranium to
Iran for use as fuel in nuclear power plants.
In a separate interview with the Voice of America's Persian News Network,
Bush said his new year's message to the Iranian people is, "We have differences
with the government, but we honor the people, and we want the people to live in
a free society." He told Iranians, "Please don't be discouraged by the slogans
that say America doesn't like you, because we do, and we respect you."
Bush said, "It's just sad that the leadership is in many ways very stubborn,
because . . . the Iranian people are not realizing their true rights."
Asked if he would "allow [uranium] enrichment inside Iran" under guarantees
and international supervision, Bush said, "I would have to be convinced that any
secret programs would be disclosed." He suggested that "the better way forward"
is for Iran to accept Russia's offer to supply nuclear fuel under a contract with strict
Bush also expressed support for Iranian dissidents. "The reformers inside
Iran are brave people, they've got no better friend than George W. Bush, and I
ask for God's blessings on them on their very important work," he said.
He said recent talks between the United States and Iran have been "solely
about Iraq." The U.S. message to Iranian leaders, he said, is to stop
sending weapons to Iraqi insurgent groups and militias, "or there will be
consequences inside of Iraq."
Staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report.
Original article: Washington Post
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