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By David Sanger,
New York Times, USA,
18 June 2003

Bush Says U.S. Will Not Tolerate Building of Nuclear Arms by Iran

Washington, June 18 - President Bush said for the first time today that the United States and its allies "will not tolerate the construction of a nuclear weapon" in Iran, and an American official at a meeting of the world`s nuclear watchdog agency accused the country of repeatedly evading inspections and violating its commitments.

Mr. Bush`s assertion that Iran`s program would be stopped came as the White House said it hoped to begin working with allies soon on intercepting ships and aircraft suspected of carrying material that could aid states like Iran and North Korea in their nuclear programs.

For years American officials have been studying programs in Iran and North Korea that are believed to be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium from the spent fuel produced by nuclear reactors. The Central Intelligence Agency believes North Korea already produced, a decade ago, enough plutonium to produce two weapons. Then, in October, the North admitted to a second program to produce highly enriched uranium in a laboratory process, and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency found a very similar program in Iran, after receiving tips from American and other intelligence agencies.

Programs in both countries appear to have accelerated in recent months, American intelligence officials say.

Mr. Bush`s statement today came in response to questions from reporters during a meeting with senators about Medicare. Asked how he would stop Iran from acquiring a weapon, he said: "The international community must come together to make it very clear to Iran that we will not tolerate construction of a nuclear weapon. Iran would be dangerous if they have a nuclear weapon."

But Mr. Bush did not describe a strategy to halt the program, and while he is picking up support for gradual isolation of North Korea, many nations in Europe and elsewhere have extensive trade relations with Iran and rely on its oil. Moreover, administration officials believe that Iran is likely to pursue efforts to build nuclear weapons regardless of what government rules the country.

"They now see a nuclear power - the United States - right next door in Iraq," said one American diplomat with long experience with Iran. "That has to be affecting their calculations."

A senior White House official said tonight that Mr. Bush`s explicit warning to Iran was a "carefully-worded escalation" that, for the first time, drew a line that the White House said Iran would not be permitted to cross. "It`s not like this spilled out," a senior official said, noting that Mr. Bush had met extensively with his aides about the Iranian program in recent weeks.

Yet as recently as two weeks ago, when he was visiting Russia, which is providing crucial technology to Iran for a nuclear reactor, Mr. Bush said only that he was "concerned" about Iran`s program and that it was important to keep weapons out of the hands of "radical clerics."

By declaring today that he would "not tolerate" the Iranian program, he echoed exactly the statements he made last month about North Korea. Mr. Bush has said that the United States is seeking a diplomatic solution in North Korea and is leaving its military options open if diplomacy fails; in the case of Iran, he has never mentioned the possibility of military action.

Mr. Bush has made clear in a series of statements that began during the summit meeting of industrialized nations in Evian, France, two weeks ago that finding new ways to counter the Iranian and North Korean programs would be at the top of his agenda in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. The White House said today that it was moving forward with the first phase of its "counterproliferation" effort.

Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said a number of major allies had agreed in principle at a meeting in Spain last week to begin intercepting - at sea and in the air - nuclear and missile-related shipments into and out of countries suspected of developing nuclear weapons technology. "The interdiction initiative that the president announced in Krakow has been well received and has now moved forward," he said, referring to the president`s visit to Poland last month, although he added that no date had been set to begin intercepting such shipments.

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