President Bush won no support from Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday in his bid to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions and acknowledged he has not yet forged an international consensus on how to deal with Tehran's alleged nuclear program.
After a meeting at the White House, Bush and Putin emerged to reaffirm their friendship and emphasize that they both oppose Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. But Putin offered no backing for the tougher approach favored by Bush to bring the weight of the United Nations to bear, and instead called for more diplomacy with Iran's new leadership.
"The potential of diplomatic solutions to all these issues is far from exhausted," Putin said at a joint appearance with Bush in the East Room a day after meeting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "And we will undertake all steps necessary to settle all these problems and issues, not aggravate them. . . . We do not want our careless actions to lead to the development of events along the North Korean variant."
By that, Putin meant the heretofore fruitless attempts to force Pyongyang to give up its own weapons program -- a program that the North Koreans now say has yielded several nuclear bombs. North Korea has been brought before the Security Council in the past, only to have China block action against it. Now North Korea has abandoned the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether as it develops weapons, while six-party talks in Beijing involving the United States are stalemated.
Bush administration officials had hoped to win enough support for a vote Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency to send the Iran case to the Security Council. European powers support such a move after their negotiations with Tehran failed to produce agreement. But like Putin, China's President Hu Jintao also declined to back such a move during a meeting with Bush in New York earlier this week. Without Russia and China, both with veto power on the council, U.S. and European diplomats fear a referral vote might be meaningless.
Bush signaled that he might wait past Monday to seek such a referral in hopes of building more support. "I am confident that the world will see to it that Iran goes to the U.N. Security Council if it does not live up to its agreements," he said. "And when that referral will happen is a matter of diplomacy."
Putin, whose government is helping Iran build a civilian nuclear plant despite U.S. objections, said Ahmadinejad assured him in their meeting Thursday in New York that Iran does not want nuclear weapons. "We, of course, are against Iran becoming a nuclear power," Putin said.
The meeting between Bush and Putin covered a range of other issues, including terrorism, energy and the fate of former Soviet republics. But it appeared a more workmanlike session than meetings earlier this year when the issue of Russia's faltering democracy produced fireworks.
As they called each other "George" and "Vladimir" again, Bush offered a passing nod to the democracy question in his opening statement. Russia "will be an even stronger partner," he said, "as the reforms that President Vladimir Putin has talked about are implemented -- the rule of law and the ability for people to express themselves in an open way in Russia."
But in Russia lately, Putin has said little about such reforms. Instead, critics complain he has continued to squeeze out any remaining political opposition. At the White House, Putin made no mention of democracy or the rule of law. Instead, he focused on winning Russian accession to the World Trade Organization and enhancing U.S.-Russian energy ties. After leaving the White House, he went to meet with U.S. oil executives.