Bush Vows to Prevent Iran From Acquiring Nuclear Arms

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008; 12:46 PM

President Bush said the Iranian government has "declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people" and vowed that the United States would be "firm" in preventing Tehran's acquisition of such arms.

In interviews yesterday to mark the Iranian new year, Bush said Iran has a right to build civilian nuclear power plants but that the government cannot be trusted to enrich uranium, according to White House transcripts released today. Different types of enriched uranium can be used as fuel for nuclear reactors or as fissile material for atomic bombs.

"The Iranians should have a civilian nuclear power program. It's in their right to have it," Bush told Radio Farda, a U.S.-funded radio station that broadcasts to Iran in Farsi, the Iranian language.

"The problem is the government cannot be trusted to enrich uranium because one, they've hidden programs in the past and they may be hiding one now, who knows; and secondly, they've declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people -- some in the Middle East," Bush said. "And that's unacceptable to the United States, and it's unacceptable to the world."

Washington has long suspected that Iran wants to use its civilian nuclear power program as cover for an effort to build nuclear weapons. But the Iranian government has not publicly declared a desire to obtain such weapons. In fact, Iranian leaders have said the opposite, repeatedly insisting that they do not want nuclear arms and asserting that their nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity.

Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation specializing in nuclear policy, called Bush's statement "uninformed" and "troubling."

"Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason," he said. "It's just not true."

Asked to explain Bush's comment, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said he spoke in "shorthand," combining Iranian threats against Israel with concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

"The president was referring to the Iranian regime's previous statements regarding their desire to wipe Israel off the map," Johndroe said. "The president shorthanded his answer with regard to Iran's previously secret nuclear weapons program and their current enrichment and ballistic missile testing."

In an October 2005 speech to a conference on a "World without Zionism," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted by a state-run Iranian news agency as agreeing with a statement by Iran's late spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that "Israel must be wiped off the map." Iran's foreign minister later said the comment had been incorrectly translated from Farsi and that Ahmadinejad was "talking about the [Israeli] regime," which Iran does not recognize and wants to see collapse.

According to Farsi-speaking commentators including Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan, Ahmadinejad's exact quote was, "The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time." Cole has written that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the "Nazi-style extermination of a people," but was expressing the wish that the Israeli government would disappear just as the shah of Iran's regime had collapsed in 1979.

In December, a U.S. intelligence review concluded that Iran stopped work on a suspected nuclear weapons program four years earlier, reversing a previous assessment that Iran was determined to acquire nuclear arms.

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