President Bush and the visiting German chancellor sent a firm message to Iran's new president today, saying they would continue strongly opposing any Iranian moves to develop nuclear weapons, a program Bush termed "unacceptable."
Speaking to reporters after a meeting in the Oval Office with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Bush stressed the importance of showing Iran's hard-line president-elect, former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a united U.S. and European front on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran insists that it has a right to use nuclear power to generate electricity, but the United States has expressed suspicion that Iranian efforts to enrich uranium and work with plutonium mean the power-generating program is essentially being used as a cover for weapons development.
"My message to the chancellor is that we continue working with Great Britain, France and Germany to send a focused, concerted, unified message that says the development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable and a process which would enable Iran to develop a nuclear weapon is unacceptable," Bush told reporters after his Oval Office meeting with Schroeder.
The German chancellor, who arrived in Washington Sunday evening, said he agreed. "We are going to continue being tough and firm," he said.
Referring to the three European countries' negotiations with Iran on nuclear matters, Schroeder noted that Ahmadinejad "has emphasized that he wants the talks to continue."
En route from Berlin to Washington, Schroeder told reporters on his plane that the Europeans were making an "aggressive offer" to Iran regarding its nuclear program, the Associated Press reported. He said Iran cannot be barred from using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, "even though some might not like that."
In a news conference in Tehran Sunday, Ahmadinejad vowed to keep talking to the Europeans, while also continuing his country's nuclear power program.
"We need peaceful nuclear technology for energy, medical and agricultural purposes and our scientific program," he said. "We will continue this." Ahmadinejad added, "We will continue talks with the Europeans while preserving our national interests and insistence on the right of the Iranian nation to use nuclear energy."
Iran suspended a program to enrich uranium in November but said the suspension was temporary. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad won Iran's presidential run-off election decisively Friday, defeating former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic Shiite Muslim cleric who advocated improving relations with the United States. Ahmadinejad formally takes over from outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami on Aug. 3.
Asked at today's photo opportunity whether he considered the new Iranian president to have been freely elected, Bush said, "It's never free and fair when a group of unelected people get to decide who's on the ballot." He referred to the role of Iran's Guardian Council, a 12-member body beholden to the theocracy's unelected supreme religious leader. The council has the power to veto candidates for the presidency and the legislature, and it barred about 1,000 candidates from running for president in the latest election.
In addition to Iran, Bush and Schroeder discussed Iraq and the United Nations, among other topics.
Asked about the U.S. position on Germany's efforts to secure a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, Bush said, "We oppose no country's bid for the Security Council." He said he and Schroeder agreed on the need for U.N. Security Council reform and "broader" U.N. reform regarding management, the U.N. Human Rights Commission and other aspects of the world body.
Schroeder said he was "very pleased" to hear that Washington did not oppose a Security Council seat for Germany "as such."
Bush and Schroeder glossed over past differences over the war in Iraq, emphasizing Germany's recent contribution in training Iraqi security forces.
Schroeder said, "There can be no question that a stable and democratic Iraq is in the best interests of not just Germany, but Europe." He said Germany has trained about 1,200 Iraqis so far at a facility in the United Arab Emirates, half of them security personnel and half administrators who will help implement reconstruction programs.