President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said today the United States and Europe are united in their opposition to Iranian development of nuclear weapons, and Bush called on Iran's government to heed the democratic aspirations of its people.
In a press conference in Mainz, Germany, on the fourth day of Bush's trip to Europe, the two leaders pushed aside their past disagreements over the invasion of Iraq and stated that they share the goal of establishing a stable democracy there.
They also agreed that Syria should withdraw its troops from Lebanon and called for an international investigation of the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, who died when a powerful bomb blew up his motorcade in Beirut last week.
Bush said he and Schroeder had discussed Iran in a meeting that preceded the press conference, and he thanked Germany, Britain and France for "taking the lead" in trying to persuade Iranian leaders to give up any nuclear weapons ambitions and live up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"It's vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn't have a nuclear weapon," Bush said at the Electoral Palace in Mainz. He noted his remark yesterday that "all options are on the table," but added, "I also reminded people that diplomacy is just beginning. Iran is not Iraq. We've just started the diplomatic efforts, and I want to thank our friends for taking the lead and I will -- we will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions."
In Tehran, Iranian officials today reiterated their denials of any plans to produce nuclear weapons, but they insisted that Iran has the right to pursue nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment.
President Mohammad Khatami said after a cabinet meeting that "the Europeans would suffer more than Iran" if they succumbed to U.S. pressures and took action against his country, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. It did not elaborate.
The agency also quoted Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as saying Iran was determined to continue its uranium enrichment program, which he said was temporarily suspended under an agreement with Germany, France and Britain, acting on behalf of the European Union. Kharrazi insisted that "Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful," the news agency said, and he called on the Europeans to make "serious strides toward transfer of technology, investment and Iran's security."
Stressing areas of agreement with Germany in today's press conference, Bush said, "We share the goal of a free and peaceful world. We share the goal of working together to convince the ayatollahs in Iran to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. We care deeply about the fact that there's disease on the continent of Africa, a pandemic in the form of HIV/AIDS. And so I would call Germany a partner in peace and a partner in freedom and a partner of doing our duty."
In response to a question, Bush said the United States and Europe need to keep the focus on what they see as Iran's transgressions rather than on any differences among them on tactics toward Iran.
"The reason we're having these discussions is because [the Iranians] were caught enriching uranium after they had signed a treaty saying they wouldn't enrich uranium," Bush said. "These discussions are occurring because they have breached a contract with the international community. They're the party that needs to be held to account, not any of us."
Bush added that "there's another demand that makes sense, as well, and that is that the Iranian government listen to the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people." He said, "We believe that the voice of the people ought to be determining policy, because we believe in democracy and freedom."
Schroeder made no mention of any discord on approaches to Iran, telling the news conference that "we are fully congruous" on the ultimate goal of the talks.
"We absolutely agree that Iran must say no to any kind of nuclear weapon, full stop," the German chancellor said. "That is the joint target that Europeans uphold as much as the . . . Americans, and we are very much of the opinion that this is the target that needs to be achieved through a diplomatic negotiating path, if at all possible. But this means there needs to be movement on both sides."