US, France united in stance on Iran
Warn nation to suspend nuclear activity
PARIS - After Iran yesterday rejected a six-nation offer of incentives to stop enriching uranium, President Bush and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France jointly warned Tehran against proceeding toward a nuclear bomb.
"Our allies understand that a nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilizing, and they understand that it would be a major blow to world peace," Bush said at a news conference with Sarkozy at Élysée Palace.
The presidents stopped short yesterday of threatening possible military action, but European leaders have appeared more inclined recently to get aggressive about the current loosely enforced UN sanctions, to support tougher ones, and to possibly even adopt unilateral measures to squeeze oil-rich Iran by curtailing dealings with its banks.
The incentives package was presented in Tehran yesterday by Javier Solana, European Union foreign policy chief, who conveyed the offer on behalf of the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China.
Solana presented the plan to Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, and its top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. The plan, which included economic, technological, educational, and political rewards, was is conditioned on Iran halting its uranium enrichment.
Bush and Sarkozy were informed of Iran's rejection of the plan as they went into morning meetings. Their session capped warm talks that began over a palace dinner Friday night. When the US and French leaders appeared together before reporters in a grand palace hall around lunchtime, they presented a single front - contrasting with the tension shown between Bush and Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy's predecessor.
"I'm disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand," Bush told reporters.
"As far as military nuclear access is concerned, this is 'no' on the part of the international community," Sarkozy said.
Iran says its enrichment is to generate nuclear energy, while the West believes it is designed as part of a now-dormant warhead program that could easily be restarted.
The package is similar to a 2006 incentives offer, said a senior State Department official. It includes "more meat in terms of how Iran could prosper" from going along, including new help developing civilian nuclear power in the form of energy partnerships and other measures, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the offer.
The official said that Tehran's dismissive stance was expected and that allies will allow some time before acting, in the hope that officials there will decide to more seriously weigh the proposal.
Perhaps reflecting this, Bush did not repeat his strongest rhetoric on Tehran, which he has repeatedly threatened with new sanctions - or even the last-resort possibility of a military strike if it remains defiant.
The farthest the president went yesterday was to promise the implementation of existing sanctions - three rounds of mild penalties through the auspices of the United Nations. He said the United States was "working with our friends and allies" on unspecified tasks.
Both Bush and Sarkozy gave special emphasis to their position that Iran is entitled to civilian nuclear power, while it can't be trusted to enrich. And they spoke in unison on the point that Iranians have a right to be better represented by a government that Bush said is "creating the depravation inside Iran."
"Our view is we want the Iranian people to flourish and to benefit," he said. It was left to Sarkozy to augment this softer message with tough talk. "If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, that is totally unacceptable," he said. "Our position will not change." Like Bush, Sarkozy declined to offer specifics about what allies will do next. But, he said, "The only solution . . . is a faultless, seamless sanctions regime."
Bush and Sarkozy spoke with one voice on Syria as well, saying that it must stop backing terrorism that destabilizes the Mideast and calling it a dangerous partner with Iran in that effort.
In a warning to President Bashar Assad of Syria, Bush said: "Stop fooling around with the Iranians and stop harboring terrorists."
Tomorrow, Bush will meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain in London. He then heads to Belfast to meet with the territory's power-sharing leaders.
Bush yesterday also was confronted with questions about Iraq, and his administration's desire to negotiate with Baghdad a long-term deal to provide the legal authority and rules covering an ongoing US military and diplomatic presence there.
Bush was upbeat. "If I were a betting man, we'll reach an agreement with the Iraqis," he said.