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Bush Tries To Allay E.U. Worry Over Iran

Notion of U.S. Attack 'Is Simply Ridiculous'

By Michael A. Fletcher and Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 23, 2005; Page A01

BRUSSELS, Feb. 22 -- President Bush said Tuesday that concern about possible U.S. military action against Iran "is simply ridiculous," but he added at a news conference that "all options are on the table" in dealing with suspected Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.

After meeting with NATO and European Union officials, Bush welcomed modest pledges from opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to help train and equip security forces there. While U.S. and European officials said there was an improved tone in their discussions, serious divisions remained over U.S. policy toward Iran and the Bush administration's objection to European plans to lift an arms embargo against China.

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Video: Bush dismisses speculation of a U.S. attack on Iran as "ridiculous," but says "all options are on the table."
Transcript: Bush Discusses Iran, Russia (FDCH E-Media, Feb 22, 2005)
Transcript: Bush, Blair Meet in Brussels (FDCH E-Media, Feb 22, 2005)
Transcript: Bush, NATO Chief Talk to Reporters (FDCH E-Media, Feb 22, 2005)

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U.S. charges that Iran wants to build nuclear weapons have raised concern in Europe about U.S. military planning. Bush has repeatedly said he wants diplomacy with Tehran's theocratic government to work.

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," Bush said. "And having said that, all options are on the table."

He said he was "getting good advice from European partners," who agreed with the United States that "it's in our interests for them not to have a nuclear weapon."

European nations would like the United States to join talks with Iran -- now involving Germany, France and Britain -- by offering Tehran security and economic guarantees in exchange for abandoning its nuclear ambitions. The Bush administration has refused to participate in the talks. The Iranian government has said its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes.

On China, Bush said he was deeply concerned that an E.U. proposal to lift a 15-year ban on arms sales would "change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan." European officials dispute that, saying they could build in safeguards to allay U.S. concerns.

Despite his reservations, Bush said he would consider European views on the issue. "They think they can develop a protocol that . . . shouldn't concern the United States," Bush said. "And I said I'm looking forward to seeing it."

Bush focused on cooperation and said that new pledges of support on Iraq meant all 26 NATO nations had agreed to help train Iraqi security forces, a development hailed by U.S. and European officials as evidence that they had put aside their deep disagreements over the invasion and occupation.

"Twenty-six nations sitting around that table said it's important for NATO to be involved in Iraq," Bush said. "That's a strong statement."

Besides the United States, 15 NATO nations have at least small troop contingents in Iraq, while the others have committed to providing money or expertise to help train Iraqi security forces inside or outside the country.

France on Tuesday became the final NATO member to commit to the training effort, following recent commitments by Germany, Greece and Belgium. France pledged one military officer to help in coordination at NATO headquarters and agreed to train 1,500 Iraqi military police officers outside Iraq.

"We're very pleased that we have not only unity in theory, but, on the question of Iraq, for the first time in three years we now have unity of purpose," said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The NATO commitment is much smaller than the Bush administration had originally hoped. Last year, the United States proposed that NATO take charge of an entire sector of Iraq, now overseen by Poland. But members of the alliance roundly rejected that idea.

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