U.S. Likely to Confront Iran on Nuclear Activity
Monday, April 30, 2007; 5:26 PM
President Bush today raised the likelihood that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will send a rare, direct message to senior Iranian officials later this week: Suspend the nation's uranium-enrichment program, which the United States believes is being used to develop nuclear weapons, or face isolation.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Bush asserted that Rice will not shun Iranian officials at a conference of major nations that have a stake in the future of war-ravaged Iraq.
"Should the foreign minister of Iran bump into Condi Rice, Condi won't be rude," Bush said. "She's not a rude person. I'm sure she'll be polite. But she'll also be firm in reminding the representative of the Iranian government that there's a better way forward for the Iranian people than isolation."
Over the weekend, Iran confirmed that it will attend the conference, which will explore ways to stabilize Iraq, where tens of thousands of civilians and more than 3,300 American service members have died since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
The United States has charged that Iran is providing weaponry to insurgents, complicating the new American security plan to stabilize Baghdad.
Until recently, the United States has resisted senior-level talks with Iran, saying it must first suspend its uranium enrichment program. Iran maintains that the program is developing nuclear energy -- not weapons.
Rice told ABC's "This Week" yesterday that she "wouldn't rule . . . out" meeting directly with Iran's foreign minister at the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort city.
If she met Manouchehr Mottaki, Rice said, she would ask him to "stop the flow of arms to foreign fighters" in Iraq and "stop the flow of foreign fighters across the borders."
Bush said that Iran's participation in the conference Thursday and Friday was one of many issues discussed at the White House today in meetings with European Union leaders.
"If, in fact, there is a conversation, it'll be one that says, if the Iranian government wants to have a serious conversation with the United States and others, they ought to give up their enrichment program in a verifiable fashion," Bush said. "And we will sit down at the table with them along with our European partners and Russia as well. That's what she'll tell him."
Standing beside Bush at a lectern, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso noted that the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran -- one for failing to ensure that its nuclear energy program could not be subverted to make deadly weapons.
"Regarding Iran, we also share the same views [of the United States], basically, about how to deal with Iran," Barroso said. "And it's not only the United States and Europe, I will say. There are several resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
"The Iranians should understand . . . this message they are receiving from the global community . . . nuclear proliferation is indeed a threat, not only to regional stability but to the global peace and global stability."
Bush, at the meeting today with Barroso and German Chancellor Angela Merkel , the president of the European Union, said he also discussed climate change, the crisis in Darfur, U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in eastern Europe, and further integrating the economies of the United States and E.U. nations, among other issues.
Merkel urged Bush to step up talks with Russia about the missile defense system, which Russian President Vladimir Putin opposes.
"She expressed her concerns that the U.S. position wasn't very clear about the missile defense systems, and that there were some people concerned in Germany as well as Europe about our intentions," Bush said. "And she also suggested that it might make sense for me to share my intentions more clearly with President Putin. And I took her advice very seriously."
Bush said the missile defense system would prevent "rogue regimes from holding Western Europe and/or America . . . hostage."
"Evidently," he added, "the Russians view it differently."