SALT LAKE CITY—In his toughest language to date, President Bush warned Thursday that "there must be consequences" for Iran's "defiance and delay" in ignoring international demands that it stop enriching uranium.
Bush stopped short of mentioning military action in remarks to the American Legion convention. But his comments, on the day of the U.N. Security Council's deadline for Iran to halt its enrichment program or face international economic sanctions, made it clear that his patience with the Tehran government is wearing thin.
"It is time for Iran to make a choice," the president said. "We've made our choice: We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution—but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon."
Bush warned that the world faces a "grave threat from the radical regime in Iran" that extends beyond its nuclear ambitions.
He described Tehran as the main supplier of weapons and cash for the militant Islamist group Hezbollah in its deadly confrontation with Israel in Lebanon and as a destabilizing force in Iraq.
"The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias and supplying components for improvised explosive devices," he continued. "The Iranian regime denies basic human rights to millions of its people. And the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons in open defiance of its international obligations."
Iran ignored Thursday's deadline to stop enriching uranium and clear up questions about other activities that have fueled suspicions that it's intent on acquiring nuclear arms.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran on Aug. 24 resumed feeding uranium hexaflouride gas into a system of centrifuges that are designed to produce purified uranium. Enriched uranium can be used to operate civilian nuclear-power plants, but uranium that's more than about 90 percent pure can fuel nuclear weapons.
The report by the IAEA, obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, also cited other troubling findings, including the August discovery of trace particles of highly enriched uranium on a storage container at a facility in the city of Karaj.
The IAEA said it "remains unable to make further progress in its efforts to verify the correctness and completeness of Iran's declarations with a view to confirming the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes, and that it won't give up its sovereign right to conduct such research.
"The Iranian nation will not accept for one moment any bullying, invasion and violation of its rights," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reported as saying Thursday.
Iran's defiance triggers an intense round of diplomacy aimed at levying sanctions, although no immediate action is expected.
European and U.S. officials said Thursday that European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana was expected to meet next week with Ali Larijani, Iran's point man on the nuclear issue. Those talks presumably would focus on Iran's Aug. 22 offer of wide-ranging negotiations. However, it refused to halt uranium enrichment as a condition for talks.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran could still meet the U.N. demands, even as discussions about sanctions were under way.
"The Iranian government has given zero indication to this point that that's what they intend to do," McCormack said, adding, "Certainly we would hope that there is a change in behavior."
At this point, Russia and China, key trading partners with Iran and veto-bearing members of the Security Council, appear unwilling to agree to anything more than modest sanctions.
For now, the White House appears focused on a diplomatic solution.
Aides to five Republican and one Democratic House of Representatives and Senate members in leadership positions, most speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that they'd had no indication of any imminent military action regarding Iran and they expected the administration would consult with at least some members of Congress first if it were leaning toward military action.
Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said the senator's position was that "there should always be extensive consultation with Congress on any kind of strike . . . so that they know the rationale for military action."
For now, one Republican leader's aide said, "We expect the Iran problem is destined to remain on the diplomacy track for quite a while yet."
When Congress returns next week, hearings on Iran could be scheduled in the Intelligence, International Relations or Armed Services committees of both chambers. There also could be a renewed effort to tighten sanctions on Iran, controversial legislation that cleared the House but has stalled in the Senate.
(McClatchy correspondents Ron Hutcheson, traveling with Bush, and Margaret Talev in Washington contributed to this article.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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