Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bush Dismisses Iran's Letter

President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week did not answer the key question of when Tehran would abandon its nuclear programme.

"It looks like it did not answer the main question that the world is asking and that is, 'When will you get rid of your nuclear programme?'," Bush said in his first public comment on the letter. READ MORE

Bush was speaking in an interview with Florida newspapers that was posted on the St. Petersburg Times Web site.

"Britain, France, Germany - coupled with the United States and Russia and China have all agreed that the Iranians should not have a weapon or the capacity to make a weapon," Bush said. "There is a universal agreement towards that goal and the letter didn't address that question," he said.

Ahmadinejad's 18-page letter was the first publicly announced communication from an Iranian president to a U.S. president since the break between the two countries in 1979 after Iran's revolution.

It discussed alleged American foreign policy misdeeds and defended scientific research as a basic right of nations.

The United States is pressing the U.N. Security Council to take stronger measures against Tehran for its nuclear programme which the West suspects is a cover for developing weapons. Iran says it is for peaceful power generation.

The U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution by Britain and France and backed by the United States that demands Iran suspend enrichment. But Russia and China oppose parts of the text.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran faced a choice between accepting a deal to curb its nuclear programmes or becoming isolated.

"The issue is that Iran knows there are two options that have been there all along, which is they can have a civil nuclear program that is appropriate and the international community can support or they can face isolation," she told reporters at an appearance with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

After failing this week at the United Nations to persuade major powers to agree on a resolution against Iran, Rice predicted that agreement would be reached within weeks.

"We will have Security Council action," she said.

European powers will meet on Monday to hammer out details of an offer to be made to Iran as part of negotiations over its programmes, but Solana sought to lower expectations ahead of the gathering in Brussels.

"We will talk about it but won't finalise it Monday," he said.

(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Washington)