Bush enlists EU against Iran

President seeks more sanctions

June 11, 2008|By New York Times News Service

KRANJ, Slovenia - Opening a farewell tour of Europe, President Bush won European support yesterday 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.

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, 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, Bush warned what would happen if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon: "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 communique 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 yesterday's joint communique 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.

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 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.

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