- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

President Bush yesterday warned Iran of “progressively stronger political and economic sanctions” if Tehran does not heed world calls to abandon ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.

“The United States has offered to come to the table with our partners and meet with Iran’s representatives as soon as the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing,” the president said in a speech to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.

“If Iran’s leaders reject our offer, it will result in action before the [United Nations] Security Council, further isolation from the world, and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.”

In increasingly belligerent rhetoric, Iran has rejected calls from the international community to give up its nuclear program and refuses to resume talks that it abandoned last year. The Islamic nation denies charges that it seeks nuclear weapons and claims it is merely developing a civilian atomic program.

But with European nations such as Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China, joining the United States to pressure Iran, Mr. Bush said the nation’s hard-line leaders must negotiate or suffer the consequences.

Despite recent talk that Iran is preparing its own proposal for ending the crisis over its atomic programs, Mr. Bush said a continued nuclear-weapons program, including uranium enrichment and reprocessing, is not negotiable.

“If Iran’s leaders want peace and prosperity and a more hopeful future for their people, they should accept our offer, abandon any ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons, and come into compliance with their international obligations.”

In Tehran, state television quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as calling for “a just and equal dialogue with no preconditions” and saying that a counteroffer was in the works. On Sunday, Iran accused the United States of steering Europe away from a possible compromise on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

Mr. Bush delivered the commencement speech at the Merchant Marine Academy a day before he departs for Austria for the annual U.S.-European Union summit, where he plans to discuss Iran with European leaders. During the speech, he delivered a message to the Tehran government and the Iranian people.

“America and her partners are united,” he said. “We have presented a reasonable offer. Iran’s leaders should see our proposal for what it is: A historic opportunity to set their country on a better course.”

The president also offered to help Iranians win more freedom “to travel and study abroad, and do business with the rest of the world.”

“We’ll provide more than $75 million this year to promote openness and freedom for the Iranian people,” said Mr. Bush, who wants to increase radio and television broadcasts into Iran and promote student and faculty exchanges.

Mr. Bush is the first president to address the Merchant Marine Academy.

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