Iran Urged to Accept Limits

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

KINGS POINT, N.Y., June 19 -- President Bush said Monday that the package of incentives being offered to Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions is a "historic opportunity," and he warned starkly that the alternative for the Islamic nation is increased isolation and crippling economic sanctions.

Speaking at the 70th commencement ceremony of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Bush said Iran's stated desire for a peaceful nuclear power program is "legitimate," and one supported by the incentive package from the United States and its allies.

"We believe the Iranian people should enjoy the benefits of a truly peaceful program to use nuclear reactors to generate electric power," said Bush, who in the past has expressed skepticism about the need for oil-rich Iran to pursue nuclear power.

Still, Bush said, the rest of the world has to be sure that Iran's program does not include any covert military goals, as the United States suspects, because a nuclear-armed Iran would be a "grave threat to people everywhere."

The president's remarks came a day before he was to depart for Vienna for meetings with the European Union, which has been involved in long-running negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Bush angered many leaders in Europe with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but his administration has worked closely with them in trying to present a united front toward Iran.

"I have a message for the Iranian regime: America and our partners are united," Bush said. "We have presented a reasonable offer. Iran's leaders should see our proposal for what it is -- an historic opportunity to set their country on a better course. 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."

The Bush administration has agreed to join negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. It also has joined with Britain, France, Russia, Germany and China in making an offer to allow Iran to develop a strictly supervised civilian nuclear power program if it abandons its uranium-enrichment efforts. The U.S. offer of joining negotiations marked the first time since the 1979 hostage crisis that the United States has offered to enter substantial negotiations with Iran.

Iran has denied seeking to develop nuclear weapons and argued that it has a right to develop a civilian nuclear program. But its leaders also have made some conciliatory remarks about the offer.

In his remarks, Bush also said that he hoped to use his impending trip to enlist members of the European Union to help build stronger international support for Iraq's fledgling democracy. "The European Union has been the world's most -- among the world's most generous financial donors for reconstruction in Iraq. And Europe and America will encourage greater international support to help," he said.

The 202 Merchant Marine Academy graduates sat on the school's football field in brilliant sunshine as Bush -- the first sitting president to address the academy -- delivered his speech. Former White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who attended the academy, accompanied Bush to the commencement ceremony and sat on the speaker's platform while Bush spoke. Graduates of the academy go to work as mates and engineers in the nation's maritime fleet, while 39 of this year's graduates are entering various branches of the armed forces.

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