AFP – June 14, 2008
US President George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday jointly urged Syria to break with Iran and bluntly warned that they would not let Tehran obtain nuclear weapons.
"Iran getting a nuclear bomb is unacceptable, that's clear. It's an unacceptable threat for the stability of the world," Sarkozy said, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush at a press conference after talks in Paris.
"A nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilising," Bush said hours after Tehran rejected new world demands to halt uranium enrichment in return economic and diplomatic rewards. "It would be a major blow to world peace."
As part of a sometimes defiant show of transatlantic unity – at times strained by Iran, Afghanistan, climate change and other disputes – Bush and Sarkozy played down differences over France's newly warm outreach to Syria.
The US president had a blunt message for Damascus: "Stop fooling around with the Iranians and stop harboring terrorists" and warn Tehran "that the West is serious" about curtailing the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
Sarkozy, who has invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend France's national "Bastille Day" celebrations next month, underlined that Damascus must guarantee neighbor Lebanon's independence.
The French president said he wanted "that Syria break as much as possible with Iran in its quest to develop a nuclear weapon" in order to pursue improved diplomatic relations with Paris.
The US president said efforts to rally Europe to his hard line on Iran – chiefly new sanctions in the face of such a rejection – had "dominated" his week-long Europe trip, his last one before leaving in office in January.
"I am disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand. It is an indication to the Iranian people that their leadership is willing to isolate them further," Bush said.
A tough sanctions regime is "the only solution for convincing the Iranians" that they need to bow to international demands, said Sarkozy.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Saturday presented a new offer to Iran on ending the six-year standoff over its nuclear drive but Tehran once again rejected the proposal's key demand to halt nuclear enrichment.
"Iran's stance is clear. The precondition of a halt and suspension of nuclear activities cannot be brought up," Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said in Tehran.
Bush said that western demands that Iran – which says its programme has peaceful aims – freeze nuclear enrichment were "just and fair" and portraying the United States and Europe as united in confronting Tehran.
That drew no argument from Sarkozy, who said Europe was prepared to help Iran with a civilian nuclear program but stressed that "for a nuclear weapons program, the response will be sanctions and a united international community."
Bush, who called his host "Nicolas," also expressed confidence that Baghdad and Washington would successfully reach a deal on the rules for US forces in Iraq after the UN mandate for the occcuption ends late this year.
"If I were a betting man – we'll reach an agreement with the Iraqis," he said, after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned the talks had stalled over Baghdad's worries about its sovereignty.
"Of course, we're there at their invitation. It's a sovereign nation and therefore we're working hard with the elected government of Iraq," said Bush. "We're going to work hard to accommodate their desires. It's their country."
The US president denied that the accord would tie his successor's hands on troop levels or that it would establish permanent US bases. The White House has previously said that 60-year-old US facilities in Japan are not "permanent."
The US president was also to visit an American cemetery and memorial for World War I and World War II combatants before touring the fort at Mont Valerien, west of Paris, where more than 1,000 French resistance fighters were executed by German troops.
Last updated 16/06/2008