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Bush Highlights Concerns Over Iran in State of the Union Speech


President Bush used his State of the Union address to reaffirm American opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions. The president also had a message for the Iranian people.

In speeches, news conferences, and interviews, President Bush has repeatedly stated his concern over Iran's decision to restart its program to enrich nuclear materials. Late Tuesday, he spoke to Congress and the nation, delivering a message that is sure to reach Tehran, as well.

"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," said Mr. Bush. "America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."

Iran has long-insisted its only nuclear aim is to provide for the energy needs of its growing population and that is program is entirely peaceful. Iran's leaders have also contested the right of the world's nuclear powers to dictate what the rest of the world may do in the nuclear sphere.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush sought to bypass Iran's government and engage the nation's people.

"Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom," he said. "And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - have agreed to support taking the Iranian nuclear case to the world body. But they have opted to defer possible U.N. action, which could include sanctions, until March. Iranian officials have threatened to cut off cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency if the Security Council takes up the case.

Concern over Iran's nuclear activities is one area where Democrats in Congress are in agreement with President Bush. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California addressed the topic ahead of his speech.

"As far as Iran is concerned, I think it is very important that we use every diplomatic tool at our disposal to say to Iran, 'it is not just the U.S. and it is not just the members of the [U.N.] Security Council," said Mrs. Pelosi. "The whole world objects to your becoming a nuclear power and the threat that you are to the stability of your region and, indeed, to the world.'"

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have said that the United States must retain a military option for dealing with Iran's nuclear program, but stressed that all diplomatic avenues must be vigorously pursued and exhausted before military action is contemplated.