Bloomberg: President George W. Bush won backing from the European Union for tighter sanctions against Iran's banks, another step aimed at hampering Iranian ability to build nuclear weapons.
By Edwin Chen and Patrick Donahue
June 10 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush won backing from the European Union for tighter sanctions against Iran's banks, another step aimed at hampering Iranian ability to build nuclear weapons.
European Commission President Jose Barroso, meeting with Bush in Slovenia, agreed to take "additional measures" to ensure that "Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism," according to a joint statement released at the end of the talks.
"We discussed a lot of problems," Bush said at a press conference outside a castle in Brdo, Slovenia. "We spent a lot of time on Iran. Iran with a nuclear weapon would be incredibly dangerous for world peace. They can either face isolation or they can have a better relationship with all of us."
Iran ignored demands to stop producing nuclear fuel and blocked inspectors from looking at documents claiming the government in Tehran researched atomic weapons, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last month.
EU and U.S. leaders talked about freezing Iranian bank assets, though the measures must be agreed on by foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc, according to EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who was present at the meeting.
Movement 'Not Seen'
"We on the one hand show that there is an enlarged offer from the European Union, but on the other hand we want to see movement from the Iranian side, and we have not seen this," Ferrero-Waldner said. "We still have to have discussions with the council of foreign ministers on that."
Deterring Iran's nuclear ambitions is the overarching focus of Bush's weeklong farewell tour of Europe this week. While Bush was having lunch today with EU leaders at a castle outside Ljubljana, a near-final draft of the U.S.-EU summit declaration was made available to reporters.
While the EU agreed to the additional measures, it also continues to press ahead with a three-year old diplomatic initiative designed to return the Iranian government to compliance with UN requests. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana plans to travel to Tehran in the coming week with a new package of incentives to persuade Iran to halt enrichment.
Bush and Barroso discussed economic issues, agreeing to strengthen trade links and to strip away tariffs. Bush said Saudi Arabia's suggestion of talks between oil producing and consuming nations was an "interesting idea" and that he's always supported strength in the U.S. currency, whose weakness against the euro has damaged economies across Europe.
"I articulated a policy that I have been articulating ever since I have been the president of the United States," Bush said. "It's the same policy — which is, we believe in a strong dollar, and that relative value economies will end up setting the proper valuation of the dollar."
He reserved his strongest comments for Iran, saying "they can't be trusted with enrichment. If they end up with a nuclear weapon, the free world's going to say, `Why didn't we do something about it at the time before they developed it?' Now is the time for a strong diplomacy."
EU nations are divided about whether to dramatically tighten sanctions against Iran. Some want the Bush administration to engage in direct talks with Iran, something it has been loathe to do. The U.S. and EU also agreed to work together on choking off cash flows that support terrorism, focusing especially on charities and money handling companies, according to the statement.
Iran will almost have doubled the number of centrifuges, the fast-spinning machines that separate uranium isotopes for power stations and bombs, to 6,000 by September, the IAEA said in a May 26 report to the UN Security Council.
The EU also expressed anxieties on June 4 about the safety of Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor, scheduled to start up next year using Russian-made fuel. That was the first time the EU publicly expressed skepticism over the safety of the $1 billion plant, Iran's only commercial nuclear reactor.
"Iran must fully restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program through implementation of the Additional Protocol," the agreement from the U.S. and EU said. "We reiterate our concern about Iran's regional policies, especially its continued support for terrorist organizations, and call on Iran to play a responsible and constructive role in the region."
The U.S. president, who has seven months remaining in office, is using his trip to press for tougher sanctions against Iran while promoting global trade and the peace process in the Middle East.
Talks in Slovenia
Bush met separately this morning with Slovenian President Danilo Turk and Prime Minister Janez Jansa. He then had lunch with the leaders of the European Union, who joined him for a press conference in Brdo, north of the Slovenian capital near the foothills of the Alps.
Later in the day, the U.S. president is scheduled to go to Berlin for meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Bush this week also will visit Rome, the Vatican, Paris, London and Belfast.
Today's summit took place less than a month before leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations are to meet in Japan, and the meeting in Ljubljana gave Bush a chance to test some of the themes he intends to raise at the G-8.
Disagreements remain over issues such as global warming, with Europeans pressing for more specific targets on reducing harmful emissions.
"I think we can get an agreement on climate change during my presidency, just to let you know," Bush said.
In additional, the World Trade Organization's 152 governments are trying to conclude global trade talks that began in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar, within the next two months. A key obstacle to an accord is concern in wealthy countries that opening their farm markets to developing nations won't be rewarded by better access for their industrial goods in emerging markets.
In Slovenia, an issue of contention will be the EU's 11- year-old ban on U.S. poultry, which costs the American poultry industry some $180 million a year, according to Bush administration officials.
U.S. negotiators thought a tentative agreement to end the ban had been reached within the Trans-Atlantic Economic Council, created a year ago to expedite economic integration between the U.S. and Europe.
But the EU returned with enough conditions to effectively keep the ban in place, said Dan Price, deputy National Security adviser for international economic affairs.
The ban was imposed because of European concerns over the use of chlorinated water in processing poultry, though the EU moved to end the ban after scientific data showed no associated health risks, Price said. The EU's new conditions involve labeling requirements and would allow the entire issue to be revisited in two years.
Many view the poultry dispute as "a test case of the ability of the TEC to follow through on its commitments," Price said.