European Leaders Back Bush On Iran

June 11th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: European Leaders Back Bush On Iran

New York Times
June 11, 2008 By Steven Lee Myers and Nazila Fathi
KRANJ, Slovenia — Opening a farewell tour of Europe, President Bush won European support on Tuesday to consider additional punitive sanctions against Iran, including restrictions on its banks, if Iran rejects a package of incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Iran has begun transferring billions of dollars from European banks to Iranian and Asian banks, and buying gold and equities, according to reports in the Iranian news media, apparently to protect its windfall oil revenue from any new sanctions.
Mr. Bush arrived in Slovenia at the start of a European tour that will take him to Berlin, Rome, Paris, London and Belfast, Northern Ireland. A summit meeting with European Union leaders here was part of an effort to persuade them to adopt a stronger line toward Iran.
Iran’s leaders, Mr. Bush said, “can either face isolation, or they can have better relations with all of us if they verifiably suspend their enrichment program.”
At a news conference after the summit meeting, Mr. Bush warned what would happen if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon. He said: “The free world is going to say, ‘Why didn’t we do something about it at the time, before they developed it?’ And so now is the time for there to be strong diplomacy.”
A joint statement issued after the meeting urged Iran to “comply with its international obligations concerning its nuclear activities” and reaffirmed Western commitments to a “dual-track strategy,” employing the threat of punitive sanctions along with incentives to Iran. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is to travel to Tehran to present the new package of incentives this weekend.
The communiqué coincided with heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna registered “serious concern” last month about Iran’s suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons.
The issue became even more pressing after Israel’s transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz, warned last week that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites would be “unavoidable” if weapons programs proceeded.
Some analysts said the language of the joint communiqué on Tuesday appeared to try to ease that threat.
“I think this was a European attempt to show the Bush administration that Europe takes the threat seriously and to try to continue to prevent a situation where Israel or the United States might turn to the military instrument,” said Julianne Smith of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Mr. Bush expressed sympathy for Israeli concerns about Iran’s intentions, telling a questioner at the news conference, “If you were living in Israel, you’d be a little nervous, too, if a leader in your neighborhood announced that they — he’d like to destroy you.”
But Mr. Bush also appeared to play down interest in a military option, saying he was leaving behind “a multilateral framework” to address Iran. And the joint statement pointed to the possibility of new measures to “ensure Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism,” though it gave no specifics.
En route to Berlin, the next stop on Mr. Bush’s trip, his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, also stressed that the focus was on the carrot of incentives and the stick of more sanctions. “I think everybody is on the same page, really,” he said. “We’re going to make this offer, and if the Iranian regime denies the Iranian people the benefit of the offer, then we’re going to have to turn up the pressure.”
Britain, France and Germany are at the forefront of European diplomacy on Iran, and Mr. Bush is seeking their endorsement of stronger United Nations sanctions.
The shift of assets out of European banks was ordered by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian newspapers reported Tuesday. The deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, Mohsen Talaie, was quoted as confirming the shift, saying, “We decided to exchange our foreign assets to increase our security.”
Some Iranians publicly expressed worries that shifting the assets had been unwise. The daily newspaper Etemad Melli quoted Ibrahim Razaghi, an economist, as warning that Asian banks could not be reliable because of their dependence on Europe’s economy.
Saeed Leylaz, an economist, warned in the daily newspaper Kargozaran that pressure on Iran would continue as long as authorities pursued aggressive policies that pushed the country further into isolation at a time when the economy was highly dependent on imports.
“We say nuclear energy is our right,” he wrote in a front-page column, referring to the country’s nuclear program. “The problem is rooted in the contradiction between our diplomacy and economic policies.”
Slovenia, the host of the summit meeting on Tuesday, considers itself the most stable and prosperous of Balkan nations and holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation European Union until July.
Mr. Bush saluted the country and its prime minister, Janez Jansa, saying the first stop on his first visit to Europe as president was Slovenia, and now “my last visit as U.S. president to Europe includes a first stop in Slovenia. It’s a fitting circle.”
Steven Lee Myers reported from Kranj, and Nazila Fathi from Tehran. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris, and Graham Bowley from New York.

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