WASHINGTON – In a rebuke of Tehran, President Bush said Saturday's long-sought vote to send Iran's nuclear case before the U.N. Security Council sends a clear message that the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.
"The path chosen by Iran's new leaders — threats, concealment, and breaking international agreements and IAEA seals — will not succeed and will not be tolerated by the international community," Bush said in a statement the White House issued Saturday at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he is spending the weekend.
"The regime's continued defiance only further isolates Iran from the rest of the world and undermines the Iranian people's aspirations for a better life."
The administration said the action gives Tehran one month to comply with the world's demands, but U.S. diplomats would not specify the penalties they hope might be imposed.
"I think we'll hold our fire," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a resolution that Iran's nuclear program may not be "exclusively for peaceful purposes." Iran promptly said it would resume uranium enrichment at its main plant instead of in Russia.
The United States is convinced that Iran is concealing its ambitions to build a bomb and has favored sending the matter to the Security Council option for almost three years.
Bush said the United States expects the Security Council "to add its weight" to the IAEA's calls on the Iranian regime to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activity, cooperate fully with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog and return to negotiations with Great Britain, France and Germany.
He said the vote by the IAEA board did not mark the end of diplomacy, but the beginning of an intensified diplomatic effort to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
"Those steps are necessary for the regime to begin to restore any confidence that it is not seeking nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program," he said.
Aside from his message to the Iranian government, Bush told the Iranian citizenry that the IAEA vote is not about trying to deny them from having a civil nuclear energy program, but was solely to prevent their leaders from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"Iran's true interests lie in working with the international community to enjoy the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy, not in isolating Iran by continuing to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons," he said.
Washington cut diplomatic ties with Iran after militant students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and took Americans hostage. The Bush administration stood on the sidelines during intensive diplomatic efforts by European powers, Russia and others to avert what many nations saw as a showdown between old adversaries.
Continued provocation from Iran turned world opinion against it, U.S. officials said Saturday.
"The strong majority in favor of the resolution, representing all regions of the world, underscores the concern of the entire international community about Iran's nuclear program," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
"We hope the Iranian regime will heed this clear message," Rice said. "The world will not stand by if Iran continues on the path to a nuclear weapons capability."
The decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board sets the stage for future action by the council, which has the authority to impose economic and political penalties.
Any such moves are weeks, if not months away. Two permanent council members, Russia and China, agreed to referral only on condition the council take no action before March.
The delay gives time for Iran's allies or others to try to intercede. U.S. officials said they will not stand in the way of new diplomacy.
"The challenge will be for Iran to choose diplomacy over isolation," Burns said. "It's got 30 days to do that."
The United States, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, will circulate a report on Iran but not call for any discussion or other action until after a March 6 meeting of the IAEA, Burns said.
At that point, if Iran has not complied with the agency's demands, the U.S. or others would begin what Burns predicted would be a vigorous debate in the council. Although tough penalties are one option, the United States has said it is not seeking them right away.
"We're going to ratchet up the pressure step by step," Burns said.
The council could issue a nonbinding statement, set up its own list of conditions for Iran to meet, impose some punishment right away or do nothing.
There is a strong distaste among some members of the council for broad and punitive penalties similar to those that contributed to a humanitarian crisis in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was president. China's U.N. ambassador said Friday that his nation is opposed to U.N. penalties as a matter of principle.