New York Times: Increasingly tough warnings from President Bush and his European allies have done nothing to temper Iran’s stance on its nuclear program, worsening the confrontation over what American officials and others suspect is a covert Iranian plan to build an atomic bomb.
The New York Times
By STEVEN LEE MYERS and NICHOLAS KULISH
Published: June 12, 2008
MESEBERG, Germany — Increasingly tough warnings from President Bush and his European allies have done nothing to temper Iran’s stance on its nuclear program, worsening the confrontation over what American officials and others suspect is a covert Iranian plan to build an atomic bomb.
In Germany for meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Bush emphasized again on Wednesday that “all options are on the table” in any response to what is suspected of being Iranian research into developing nuclear weapons. Those options would include the possibility of military force, he said.
Even as Mr. Bush won new support from the Europeans, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran responded by mocking attempts to rein in his country’s nuclear program, which Iran maintains is for peaceful development of nuclear energy. Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in Iran that the West “cannot do anything” and singled out Mr. Bush as a lame duck who had failed at every attempt to hurt Iran.
“Bush’s time is up, and he was not able to harm even one centimeter of our land,” the state-run news agency, IRNA, quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying.
Iran’s intransigence appears to be unifying the Europeans, who remain divided over how severely to punish Iran for not complying with United Nations Security Council resolutions that demand that it stop enriching uranium or face sanctions. Iran has called the resolutions illegal and unjustified.
During meetings at Schloss Meseberg, the German government guesthouse here, Mrs. Merkel joined Mr. Bush in calling for more sanctions against Iran if it did not suspend uranium enrichment.
Mr. Bush won European support on Tuesday for consideration of additional sanctions, including restrictions on Iran’s banks, if the government rejects an incentive package intended to persuade Iranian leaders to suspend uranium enrichment.
But Mr. Bush’s remarks during an appearance with Mrs. Merkel also illustrated the distance between them, as Mrs. Merkel emphasized diplomacy and the need to enforce the current sanctions.
The Iranians appear to believe that, should the crisis over the nuclear program deepen, rather than supporting Mr. Bush, his European allies would probably rein him in as well as the increasingly militant Israelis, who have raised the possibility of strikes on what they suspect are Iranian nuclear facilities.
“We do not think there is a chance for a military strike,” Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Wednesday at a news conference in Paris. He dismissed the threat of an Israeli attack as “not serious.”
Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is to arrive in Tehran on Saturday to present a repackaged proposal that includes incentives for Iran to stop its enrichment program, which Iran has previously rejected, put together by the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.
Though Mrs. Merkel supported Mr. Bush during his visit here, she seemed to signal that she did not advocate the kind of actions he has called on countries to take in addition to the United Nations sanctions, as for example the United States already does. Further measures “need to be negotiated in the Security Council of the United Nations,” Mrs. Merkel said. “The more countries are in on this, the more effective the impact will be on Iran.”
While Mr. Bush has insisted that he has not ruled out a military response, he did not discuss the option with Mrs. Merkel, the deputy national security adviser for regional affairs, Judy Ansley, told reporters flying to his next stop, Rome. Mr. Bush clearly stated that his “first choice, of course, is to solve this diplomatically.”
The standoff with Iran has not occurred in a vacuum, and is influenced as well by European attitudes toward the war in Iraq and the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Opposition in many corners of Europe, particularly in Germany and France, to the decision by the United States to proceed to war in Iraq without the approval of the Security Council continues to haunt him here.
Responding to a question about an interview by The Times of London in which he expressed regret over his words before the Iraq invasion, Mr. Bush said, “I could have used better rhetoric to indicate that one, we tried to exhaust the diplomacy in Iraq; two, that I don’t like war.” But he said he still believed that removing Saddam Hussein was right, adding, “You don’t get to do things over in my line of work.”
Mr. Bush also expressed confidence that his administration would reach a security agreement with Iraq that would authorize American forces and operations after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year. The negotiations face opposition in Congress and, increasingly, in Iraq. Iran’s supreme leader warned the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, not to ratify an agreement.
“He appreciates our presence there,” Mr. Bush said of Mr. Maliki, “and he understands that we’re returning on success; as the situation merits, and the situation improves, we’re bringing our troops home.”
Mr. Bush weighed in strongly on the debate in Germany over the mission in Afghanistan, thanking Germans directly “for their contributions to helping the people of Afghanistan realize the blessings of a free society.”
While conceding that “this is a controversial subject here,” Mr. Bush framed the German debate over sending more troops to Afghanistan in human terms by saying that he hoped “people here think of young girls who couldn’t go to school in the past but now can; or think of mothers who bring their babies to health clinics for the first time.”
Germany’s mandate for its troop deployment in Afghanistan, now limited to 3,500 soldiers, expires in October. The German government has come under significant pressure from its allies, including the United States, to deploy more troops and to send them to southern Afghanistan, the site of much of the fiercest fighting. Opinion polls here consistently show that a wide majority of Germans oppose their country’s military presence in Afghanistan.
Mr. Bush is on his last scheduled trip to Europe as president. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Bush, who have always been on better terms than Mr. Bush was with Mrs. Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, seemed comfortable together, fielding questions from reporters and strolling the gardens of Schloss Meseberg.
Mrs. Merkel said they discussed a range of issues, including trade, biofuels and the Middle East. On one of Mrs. Merkel’s signature issues, climate change, Mr. Bush signaled that there would be room for an agreement that would include not only the United States and the European Union, but also China and India.
Alan Cowell and Elaine Sciolino contributed reporting from Paris, and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.