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U.S./Iran: Bush Challenges Tehran, Offers 'Way Forward' In Nuclear Dispute

U.S. President George W. Bush (epa) U.S. President George W. Bush has told Persian-language broadcaster Radio Farda in an exclusive interview that it is Iran's "right" to have a civilian nuclear-power program but that there is no need for the country to enrich uranium.

Bush also voiced support for offers by third countries, including Russia, to process nuclear fuel for Iran could provide a solution to the heated international dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.

In an extensive interview ahead of the start of the Persian New Year on March 21, the U.S. president expressed "great respect for the people" of Iran but emphasized that "we've got problems with the [Iranian] government."

Bush cited his "belief that the Iranians should have a civilian nuclear-power program. It's in their right to have it." But he added: "The problem is that the [Iranian] 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."

Iran has consistently said that its uranium-enrichment program is aimed only at producing energy, but the United States and some allies fear Iran is seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

"There's a chance that the U.S. and Iran can reconcile their differences, but the government is going to have to make different choices," Bush said. "And one [such choice] is to verifiably suspend the enrichment of uranium, at which time there is a way forward."

The UN Security Council has passed three rounds of sanctions against Iran in an effort to pressure Tehran to halt its enrichment activities.

"What is acceptable to me is to work with a nation like Russia to provide the fuel so that the plant can go forward, which therefore shows that the Iranian government doesn't need to learn to enrich [uranium]," Bush said.

Iraq Effect

Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led coalition's invasion of Iraq, Bush reiterated his resolve not to "run in the face of violence" and said the United States and its allies are "there for the right reason, which is to promote freedom and peace."

"We are promoting and helping the Iraqis develop a free society," he said, adding that "a free Iraq will help the Iranians seek the blessings of a free society."

U.S. officials have accused Iran of providing weapons and training to armed opponents of Iraq's central government, a charge that Tehran has dismissed.

"A peaceful Iraq will depend upon making it clear to the Iranians to stop exporting weapons from Iran into Iraq that arm militias and arm criminal gangs that cause there to be harm for the innocent people," Bush said.

Rights Issues

Bush challenged Tehran over restrictions on free speech and political participation, including a swipe at the March 14 parliamentary elections in which scores of reformist candidacies were disqualified.

"This is a regime that says they have elections but they get to decide who's on the ballot, which is not a free and fair election," Bush said. "So this is a regime and a society that's got a long way to go. But the people of Iran can rest assured that the United States -- whether I'm president or [it's] the next president -- will strongly support their desires to live in a free society."

Radio Farda is a joint broadcasting venture between Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America.

Interview conducted by Radio Farda correspondent Parichehr Farzam