Bush, Schroeder Denounce Iran Nuclear Aims

By  | 

President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder insisted Wednesday that Iran must not have nuclear weapons, but remained divided on how to coax Tehran into giving up its suspected ambitions for such an arsenal.

"It's vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn't have a nuclear weapon," Bush said at a news conference with the German leader.

Both sought to play down the differences between the United States and Europe.

"We absolutely agree that Iran must say, no, to any kind of nuclear weapon," Schroeder said.

Bush made his nine-hour stop here during a trip to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia, where the president meets Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Schroeder wants Bush to more actively engage with talks led by Germany, France and Britain that offer incentives to Tehran, such as membership in the World Trade Organization, in return for dropping its uranium enrichment program.

"There needs to be movement on both sides," Schroeder said.

Bush, in contrast, backs the European diplomacy but frowns on the idea of rewarding Iran for breaking the nonproliferation treaty that prohibits it from making nuclear fuel or for sponsoring terrorist groups in Israel such as Hezbollah.

"We will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions," Bush said of the Europeans.

But he added: "The reason we're having these discussions is because they were caught enriching uranium after they had signed a treaty saying they wouldn't enrich uranium. ... They're the party that needs to be held to account, not any of us."

From Tehran, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Iran will not permanently halt a nuclear program it insists is designed only for peaceful purposes.

"Neither my government nor any other (Iranian) government can give up the definite right of the Iranian nation to have peaceful nuclear technology," Khatami said. "We have to give objective guarantees to the (European) gentlemen that we won't divert from the peaceful path. They must also ... give objective guarantees that our rights and security will be protected."

Also Wednesday, Bush addressed about 3,000 U.S. troops at Wiesbaden Air Base in Germany, many who had just returned from Iraq. And he toured a museum dedicated to Mainz native Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, with Schroeder and their wives.

At a round-table meeting with young Germans, Bush emphasized the close relationship he and Schroeder have with the Russian leader, who is under criticism from the West for rolling back some democratic reforms.

"I expressed some concerns at the European Union yesterday about some of the decisions such as freedom of the press that our mutual friend has made," Bush said. "I look forward to talking with him about his decision-making process."

A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on Air Force One on the flight to Germany, said Bush rejects Putin's defense of his tightening of government controls — that the Russian people are accustomed to strong rule by czars and a large government role in everyday life. "An argument that `My people need a strong ruler — me' is an argument that does not fit with the way the president talks about democracy," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bush and Schroeder, meanwhile, seemed resigned to differences on issues such as global warming and, especially, the U.S.-led war in Iraq that Germany so vehemently opposed.

"Now, our joint interest is that we come to a stable, democratic Iraq," Schroeder said.

Even though Germany refuses to go into that war-torn nation, Schroeder noted its role in training Iraqi security officers in the United Arab Emirates and its willingness to help the new Iraqi government draft a constitution or establish ministries.

"I fully understand the limitations of German contributions," Bush said.

The leader of Germany's main opposition party, the conservative Christian Democrats, said after a 15-minute meeting with Bush that relations appear on the mend. "I got the impression that trans-Atlantic relations are really in a new phase," Angela Merkel told ARD television.

But the sticky issue of Iran dominated the Bush-Schroeder meeting and news conference.

National Security Adviser Steve Hadley said the administration supports the Europeans' negotiations with Iran, but insist they produce a permanent halt to Iran's uranium enrichment.

Hadley said the leaders discussed whether there should "be a mix of carrots and sticks and who should the carrots come from and what should they be." But he stopped short of saying Bush was retreating from is belief that Iran should not be rewarded, saying Bush "did a lot of listening" and now will "go back and think about it."

Bush also repeated that Syria must remove its forces from Lebanon but didn't threaten any action against Damascus — for now.

"The charge is out there for the Syrian government to hear loud and clear," Bush said. "We will see how they respond before there's any further discussions about going back to the United Nations."

Schroeder welcomed Bush during a snowy arrival ceremony at a 17th century castle in this city on the Rhine River. A military band played the national anthems of each country as the leaders walked a red carpet reviewing a military honor guard. They posed for photographs with wide smiles, Bush throwing his arm around the chancellor.

Security was so tight that nearly every street in downtown Mainz was closed to traffic.

About 5,000 people participated in a peaceful rally and parade protesting Bush's visit — though they were kept far from the palace meeting site. A recent AP-Ipsos poll showed overwhelming skepticism of Bush in Germany.