- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

President Bush said yesterday that he “will not tolerate construction of a nuclear weapon” in Iran and urged Tehran to treat student protesters with “the utmost of respect.”

“The international community must come together to make it very clear to Iran that we will not tolerate the construction of a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

“Iran would be dangerous if they have a nuclear weapon,” he said on a day when U.S. diplomats were demanding tougher inspections on Iran’s nuclear facilities, citing a report critical of the country’s compliance with international safeguards. “We all must work together to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”

Mr. Bush’s warning to Iran’s ruling ayatollahs came as students demonstrated throughout the country, with some protesting for an eighth straight day outside Tehran University.

Some sent pleas to U.S. lawmakers for support.

“This Islamic regime is really killing us today,” said one e-mail sent to Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, from the Iranian city of Shiraz. The senator’s office requested that the sender not be identified.

“They have smashed our satellites and dishes. Our bodies are bleeding. My father and 3 of my neighbors are now in hospital. They have broken everything in our houses. They were like cruel animals,” the e-mail continued.

“You are, after Mr. President Bush, the most popular man of America in Iran now. Mr. Senator, please do [something]. Please help, help, help.”

Mr. Brownback is the main sponsor of the Iran Democracy Act, which would provide $50 million to help organize the Iranian-American pro-democracy community, support organizations advocating human rights improvements in Iran and help fund efforts to broadcast from private stations in California directly into Iran.

The students are demanding a loosening of control by the country’s hard-line Islamist clerics.

“I appreciate those courageous souls who speak out for freedom in Iran,” Mr. Bush said. “They need to know America stands squarely by their side. And I would urge the Iranian administration to treat them with the utmost of respect.”

Scores of people were arrested across Iran yesterday as antiregime demonstrators took to the streets for the eighth day in a row.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami yesterday condemned the violence and the harsh crackdown led by Islamist groups.

“If we want democracy, we must accept such protests as natural,” he said.

But Mr. Khatami, who has tried to implement a reformist agenda in Iran, has little power in the face of the country’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his council of clerics.

Ignited by student leaders fed up with the repressive clerical regime, the protests recently have spread from the capital and even outside Iran.

During the past week, there have been clashes in the western city of Kermanshah, Tabriz in the northwest, Mashhad in the northeast and Yazd in central Iran, and smaller skirmishes in the central city of Isfahan and in Shiraz in the south.

“It is clear that the protests are gaining steam,” Mr. Brownback said.

Iranian exiles in Paris and London supporting the antiregime People’s Mujahideen, set themselves on fire in reaction to France’s roundup of 160 members of the dissident group that has worked out of Paris for years. French police released all but 26 of those detained.

Two women and a man set themselves ablaze in Paris, and one man set fire to himself in front of the French Embassy in London to protest the arrests. Marzieh Babakhani died in the hospital from her burns in Paris yesterday.

“I think the current protests make it very difficult to make the case for engaging the Iranian regime,” Mr. Brownback said. “How are we going to negotiate with a regime that is being actively opposed by its open people?”

In his 2002 State of the Union address, Mr. Bush labeled Iran part of an “axis of evil,” and American officials yesterday were enlisting worldwide support in their drive to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In Vienna, Austria, a U.S. representative told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran must allow more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Ambassador Kenneth Brill was responding to an internal IAEA report that accused Tehran of repeatedly breaking promises during the past 12 years to reveal information on the acquisition, processing and storage of nuclear materials.

“Although the investigations are continuing, the report already confirms that Iran’s nuclear program is cause for great concern,” Mr. Brill told the IAEA board during a debate on the topic. “If Iran’s intentions are peaceful, why did it engage in a long-term pattern of safeguards violations and evasions” regarding many of its nuclear activities, he asked.

“Without the outside revelations, Iran’s extensive nuclear program would still be proceeding on a largely clandestine basis,” he added. “Can the IAEA or anyone else be confident under these circumstances that there are no other clandestine facilities that have yet to be revealed?”

The Bush administration has been pressuring Russia to stop exporting sophisticated nuclear technology to Iran for use in a nuclear-power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr. But yesterday, the White House pointed out that even Moscow is demanding that Iran come clean on its nuclear-weapons programs.

“The United States, as well as many nations around the world, including Russia, do have deep concerns about Iran’s development of nuclear weapons,” said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

“Iran is finding itself coming under increased international scrutiny as a result of their not answering these questions that the international community has asked of them,” he added. “And that includes now Russia.”

Mr. Fleischer said that Iran, an oil-rich nation, does not need nuclear-generated electricity. He pointed out that the IAEA report cited Tehran for failing “to report certain nuclear materials and activities” and called it “cause for great concern.”

Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Tehran has not violated the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“Iran considers the acquiring, development and use of nuclear weapons inhuman, immoral, illegal and against its very principles,” he said at the Vienna meeting. “They have no place in Iran’s defensive doctrine.”

While acknowledging that Iran interprets nuclear regulations differently than the IAEA, Mr. Salehi said his nation was being unfairly singled out by the international community.

“If indeed our collective purpose is to settle issues and to not turn them into international problems with far-reaching repercussions, then we should wisely join in all our forces to avoid the practice of double standards, a practice normally emanating from political motivation,” he said.

Mr. Khatami told reporters in Tehran that “not only do we not want to obtain nuclear weapons, but also we are among the ones who took the initiative in saying we want a region without nuclear weapons.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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