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U.S. President Bush (file photo) (epa) WASHINGTON, June 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has repeated the U.S. demand that Iran suspend its controversial nuclear activities or face "progressively stronger political and economic sanctions."


"The leaders of Iran sponsor terror, deny liberty and human rights to their people, and threaten the existence of our ally Israel," Bush told the a graduating class the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point, New York. "And by pursuing nuclear activities that mask its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, the regime is acting in defiance of its treaty obligations, of the United Nations Security Council, and of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nuclear weapons in the hands of this regime would be a grave threat to people everywhere."


Tomorrow Bush travels to Austria for the annual U.S.-European summit, where Iran will be a central topic of discussion.


Bush specified that if Iran's rejects the offer extended to it earlier in the month, it will face "action before the Security Council" and "further isolation from the world." On 6 June, the United States, Germany, and the five permanent members of the United National's Security Council offered Iran a package of incentives to stop uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.


On June 16, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad praised the package "as a step forward," but did not clearly signal his willingness to accept it. Today, he suggested that a counter offer was in preparation.


While criticizing Iran's intransigence on the nuclear issue, Bush acknowledged its right to pursue a "peaceful" program to use nuclear reactors to generate electricity.


"We believe the Iranian people should enjoy the benefits of a truly peaceful [nuclear] program to use nuclear reactors to generate electric power," Bush said. "So, America supports the Iranian people's rights to develop nuclear energy peacefully, with proper international safeguards."


Bush also expressed his desire to see more Iranians travel, study abroad, and "do business with the rest of the world."


And, he mentioned the $75 million in pro-democracy funds that his administration requested earlier in the year. Some analysts suggest that this money is seen by the Iranian regime as support for the political opposition.

Talking Technical

A control panel at the Bushehr nuclear power plant (Fars)

CASCADES AND CENTRIFUGES: Experts and pundits alike continue to debate the goals and status of Iran's nuclear program. It remains unclear whether the program is, as Tehran insists, a purely peaceful enegy project or, as the United States claims, part of an effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
On June 7, 2006, RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with nuclear expert Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden to help sort through some of the technical issues involved. "[Natanz] will be quite a large plant," Kile said. "There will be about 50,000 centrifuges and how much enriched uranium that can produce [is] hard to say because the efficiency of the centrifuges is not really known yet. But it would clearly be enough to be able to produce enough [highly-enriched uranium] for a nuclear weapon in fairly short order, if that's the route that they chose to go...." (more)


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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


CHRONOLOGY

An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.

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