- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

President Bush yesterday demanded much tougher sanctions against Iran, which the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency says will be capable of building an atomic bomb in as little as three years.

The president also warned Americans to expect a “bloody” summer and “heavy fighting” in the months ahead as Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda launch fierce attacks before Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces, assesses the effectiveness of a massive surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad.

“What they’re going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home,” Mr. Bush said at a Rose Garden press conference. “It could be a bloody — it could be a very difficult August.”

The president, who was occasionally defensive and combative during the hourlong session, also praised the bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to send him a war-funding bill that he can sign, applauding the removal of a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal. He said he will continue to insist that Iraqis make progress on political reforms and security efforts.

The bill “reflects a consensus that the Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America’s continued support and sacrifice,” Mr. Bush said.

Departing next month for meetings with European leaders, as well as sideline discussions with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin — two opponents to reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions — the president said the weak U.N. sanctions against the nation have produced nothing.

“We need to strengthen our sanction regime,” he said. “The world has spoken and said, you know, ‘No nuclear weapons programs.’ And yet they’re constantly ignoring the demands. … They continue to be defiant as to the demands of the free world.”

Two rounds of U.N. sanctions in the past six months were watered down by Russia and China, and many European nations have been reluctant to join U.S. efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Tensions have escalated in the region as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week vowed to continue efforts to enrich uranium. Meanwhile, nine U.S. warships, including two aircraft carriers, sailed into the Persian Gulf on Wednesday for maneuvers, in part as a show of force to Tehran. The ships, carrying about 17,000 personnel and 140 aircraft, sailed through the Straits of Hormuz in daylight, the largest ship movement of its kind since the Iraq war began in 2003.

In Luxembourg, International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran has made substantial progress in its enrichment program and is nearing the ability of being able to produce nuclear weapons. He said Tehran could produce an atomic bomb “three to eight years from now.”

Iran, however, shows no signs of relenting.

“With God’s help, the path to completely enjoying all nuclear capacity is near its end and we are close to the peak,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said yesterday.

Mr. Bush yesterday pledged to work with European, Russian and Chinese leaders to impose a third, stronger round of U.N. sanctions against Iran.

“The first thing that these leaders have got to understand is that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing for the world. It’s in their interests that we work collaboratively to continue to isolate that regime,” he said.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the current sanctions are simply not working.

“The ones in place now are weak and watered down. We really need to get our friends in Europe to get serious about this matter,” he said on Fox News. “We need a dramatic ramp-up of the pressure, and if we can’t get that quickly from the Europeans, unfortunately, we’re going to have to do something else, like regime change, or, as a last resort, the use of force by the United States.”

Mr. Bush said he had directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work with European partners to “develop further sanctions.” She has offered to meet with her Iranian counterpart — to no avail — and on Monday, U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will meet with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad to discuss ways of stabilizing Iraq. However, the two will not discuss Iran’s nuclear program.

On other topics, the president:

• Bristled at a question about why U.S. forces have not found al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden saying, he is “hiding, and we’re looking, and we will continue to look until we bring him to justice.”

• Expressed support for an immigration proposal his administration negotiated with Senate leaders of both parties, saying that “if you’re serious about securing our borders, and bringing millions of illegal immigrants in this country out of the shadows, this bipartisan bill is the best opportunity to move forward.”

• Repeated his confidence in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, saying that if an investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys finds “wrongdoing, it will be taken care of.”

• Warned China that the massive U.S. trade deficit with that nation must be addressed, saying the United States is “watching very carefully” whether Beijing will strengthen the value of its own currency, a move that could ease the trade imbalance.

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