WASHINGTON - President Bush and European leaders demanded yesterday that Iran end its alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and Bush warned: "If they don't, we'll deal with that."
Echoing the tough talk that was once directed at Iraq, Bush insisted that Iran cooperate with international nuclear inspectors. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are seeking more access to Iranian nuclear facilities that could furnish materials for nuclear weapons.
U.S. intelligence officials say Iran appears to have accelerated its weapons program in recent months. Iran denies it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Bush declined to say how he would respond if Iran fails to cooperate with the international inspectors.
"Iran must comply. The free world expects Iran to comply. Just leave it at that," he said.
Senior U.S. officials, however, acknowledge that with substantial American ground forces tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea, an attack similar to the one on Iraq isn't likely. But they said the United States had more than enough air power to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities.
The president delivered the warning after meeting with leaders from the European Union in an effort to put aside hard feelings from the war with Iraq, which many of them opposed. The European visitors endorsed Bush's call for more stringent weapons inspections in Iran, but steered clear of any talk of what to do if Iran fails to cooperate.
So far, Europe and the United States are cooperating on Iran policy. The EU, for example, has refused to sign a trade deal with Iran until Iran opens the door to full U.N. nuclear inspections.
Bush and his guests seemed eager to move beyond any previous disagreements over Iraq, global warming and other issues. The leaders agreed to work together to fight terrorism, promote global trade, seek peace in the Middle East and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
They also agreed to negotiate an "Open Skies" agreement that would increase competition in international airline service.
"When Europe and the United States are united, no problem and no enemy can stand against us," said Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, the EU's governing arm. "If we fail to unite, every problem may become a crisis and every enemy a gigantic monster."
Bush tried humor to defuse tension over one sore point, the EU's ban on genetically altered food. After meeting with his guests in the Oval Office, Bush joked, "Let's go eat some genetically modified food for lunch."
Despite the cordial atmosphere, Prodi couldn't resist a dig at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who angered European allies by dismissing anti-war sentiment as "Old Europe" thinking.
"Many people have said that Europe is too old. Maybe, but the old age helps us to understand our strengths and our weaknesses and the reality of the world," Prodi said.
Bush urged the European leaders to join his effort to cut off funding for the militant Islamic group Hamas. Although the United States has long branded Hamas a terrorist group, France considers it a legitimate political and charitable organization.