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We propose a new lossy to lossless progressive compression scheme for triangular meshes, based on a wavelet multiresolution theory for irregular 3D meshes. Although remeshing techniques obtain better compression ratios for geometric compression, this approach can be very effective when one wants to keep the connectivity and geometry of the processed mesh completely unchanged. The simplification is based on the solving of an inverse problem. Optimization of both the connectivity and geometry of the processed mesh improves the approximation quality and the compression ratio of the scheme at each resolution level. We show why this algorithm provides an efficient means of compression for both connectivity and geometry of 3D meshes and it is illustrated by experimental results on various sets of reference meshes, where our algorithm performs better than previously published approaches for both lossless and progressive compression.