Bush promises to prevent nuclear Iran

President George W. Bush vowed to rally the world to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon after Tehran threatened to resume uranium enrichment if major powers report it to the U.N. Security Council.In his annual State of the Union address, an occasion Bush used four years ago to call Iran part of an "axis of evil," the president refrained from fierce rhetoric, although he accused Tehran's clerical leaders of holding their people hostage.The United States earlier won agreement from a reluctant China and Russia to back taking the Iranian nuclear issue to the Security Council, a step that could ultimately lead to sanctions.

In Tehran, the government threatened to halt snap U.N. inspections of its nuclear sites and resume uranium enrichment if it was reported to the U.N. Security Council, as agreed by the council's five permanent members.The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran had already begun preparing for uranium enrichment, which can potentially produce fuel for bombs, and continued to hinder inquiries into its atomic activities.

The big powers said a crisis meeting of the 35-member IAEA board on Thursday should "report to the Security Council on the steps required from Iran."But they said the council should then wait until IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei reports on Iran's nuclear program at a regular IAEA meeting on March 6 before deciding on any action.

That gave Tehran a few more weeks to try to negotiate a way out of the crisis, though it showed little sign of compromise.

"We will never abandon our rights to nuclear technology and if referred to the Security Council, Iran will stop voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency. This would in effect restrict inspections of suspect sites.

Mehr also quoted chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani as saying Tehran would lift all suspensions on nuclear work if referred or reported to the Security Council.

Involving the Council would mean "the end of diplomacy" as a way to solve the crisis, Larijani told state television."If these countries use all their means ... to put pressure on Iran, Iran will use its capacity in the region," the semi-official ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.It was not clear what he meant. Analysts say Iran, with its links to Islamist parties and militants, has the means to create trouble for the West in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is purely peaceful, announced this month it was resuming nuclear research which had been suspended for 2-1/2 years. The United States and many of its allies believe Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons."The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons," Bush said. "America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."

Four years ago Bush named Iran with North Korea and Iraq as countries which, with their "terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, armin to threaten the peace of the world."With all sides engaged in high-stakes negotiations, he avoided such language on Tuesday, although he described Iran as "a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people."

Speaking directly to Iranians, Bush said: "We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran,” reports Reuters. I.L.

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