18 February 2005
United States Wants Diplomacy To Work with Iran, Bush Says
President calls for European-American unity in dealing with Tehran
Europe and the United States need to speak clearly to Iran “with one voice” to convey their common position that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon, President Bush said.
In interviews with European journalists February 18, two days before his departure for Belgium, Germany and the Slovak Republic, Bush said he wants diplomacy to resolve the international community’s differences with Iran.
“I hear all these rumors about military attacks, and it's just not the truth,” he said. “We want diplomacy to work. And I believe diplomacy can work, so long as the Iranians don't divide Europe and the United States,” Bush told ARD-German TV.
He told TV3-France of his conviction that “if the Iranians hear us loud and clear, without any wavering … they will make the rational decision.”
The president said the situation with Iran is “totally different” from international concerns over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that eventually led to military action.
Iraq “was an issue where diplomacy had been exhausted,” whereas, “[t]he Iranian issue hasn't even been to the United Nations yet,” said Bush on ARD-German TV.
“[T]here's a lot more diplomacy to be done,” he said, and the United States “will try diplomacy.”
In addition to supporting joint U.S.-European efforts to convince Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, Bush called upon Iran to end its support of terrorism through Hizballah and to “open up their country to more democracy and freedom … [and] give their people a chance to express themselves in a free way.”
Bush told TV3-France that he will speak with French President Jacques Chirac about Syria and the need for Syria to withdraw its troops from neighboring Lebanon. Both France and the United States have influence with Syria, he said, and “the fact that we're talking together should send a clear signal to [Syrian] President [Basher Al-] Assad that we're very serious about this.”
The United States and France will also work together “to help the Lebanese have a free and fair election and a burgeoning democracy,” he said.
The president acknowledged past differences with Chirac over Iraq, but said the two countries “share a lot of values,” such as valuing human rights, human dignity, the rule of law and governmental transparency.
“We have our differences,” he said, “And now is the time to set those aside and focus on peace in the Middle East,” as well as other issues, such as HIV/AIDS in Africa and global hunger.
Turning to Iraq, Bush told VRT Belgian Public Broadcasting that he will talk to NATO about continuing the training of Iraqi security forces, and with the European Union on how to “help this new fledgling democracy grow.”
However, the president said he will not insist upon more support from European allies if their citizens are opposed to such support.
In democracies, the government “reflects the desires of the people,” and Bush said, “I don't believe we should ask people to do things that their people don't want them to do.”
“[I]f you're comfortable supporting the training missions with troops, fine; if not, you're still our friend,” he said.
He told ARD-German TV that he will wait to hear from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder whether Germany is interested in participating in the training mission.
Germany is “really good” at training, developing government ministries and providing humanitarian aid, Bush said, and he praised Germany’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan as “a great German contribution.”
When asked if he supports Germany’s aspirations for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, Bush responded that he has not yet taken a position on reforming the council and wants to see “the different models of reform come forward.”
“Europe is vital for the future of the United States, and Germany is vital for the future of Europe,” he said. “And I'm open for suggestions.”
Following are the transcripts of President Bush’s interviews with TV3-France, ARD-German TV and VRT Belgian Public Broadcasting:
THE WHITE HOUSE
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT BY TV3-FRANCE
The Map Room
10:34 A.M. EST
Q Mr. President, thank you very much to welcome Francois. You and President Chirac want to improve your relationship after bitter divisions on Iraq. How do you plan, yourself, to take concrete steps with France, with the allies, and restore credible cooperation on the hardest issues, like Middle East, for instance?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure. No, I think that's a great question because inherent in your question is the understanding that there -- we share a lot of values. Both our nations value human rights and human dignity and rule of law and transparency. And we value our friendship from years gone by. And I look forward to working with President Chirac. We've have our differences. And now is the time to set those aside and focus on peace in the Middle East. I'll work with the French on -- to help the Lebanese have a free and fair election and a burgeoning democracy. And I'll work with the French to continue to help with the Middle Eastern peace process. There's a lot of areas where we need to work together. And we need to continue to work together on HIV/AIDS in Africa and hunger around the world. And I'm looking forward to the meeting.
Q You and President Chirac keep telling the Syrians that they have to withdraw immediately their troops.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q What will you do if they refuse --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's --
Q -- in the coming weeks?
THE PRESIDENT: That's a -- my attitude is, is that when we speak together and convince others to speak with us, that the Syrians will get the message. And I'm a hopeful person. I'm hopeful that the President of Syria will hear the world speak. And the French have got a lot of influence in Syria, and we've got some influence, as well. And the fact that we're talking together should send a clear signal to President Assad that we're very serious about this.
Q Let's come to Iran --
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q -- which is backing terrorism and all that. If Iran refuses to stop its nuclear program, or the kind of same question, what will you do, Mr. President, with the allies or whatever?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the key is there for the Iraqis [sic] to hear Europe and the United States speak with one voice. And I appreciate President Chirac and his government, and as well as the Germans and the Brits working together to say to the Iranians, we don't want you to have a weapon. In other words, we -- the -- we share a goal, and that is for the Iranians not to develop a nuclear weapon. And we want to work with our friends to not only speak with one voice, clearly with one voice, but also to help others realize -- like Russia realize. And I think President Putin understands that, the Iranians shouldn't have weapon. I'm convinced, again, if the Iranians hear us loud and clear, without any wavering, that they will make the rational decision.
Q But do you trust the Iranians, this regime?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's hard to trust a regime that doesn't trust their own people. And so part of our belief is that the Iranians ought to listen to the reformers in their country, those who believe in democracy and then -- and give them a say in government. After all, the French model and the U.S. model believes in -- people ought to be able to express themselves in a free society.
Q Two quick last questions, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q Iraq is having explosions, terrorist attacks every day. Do you fear about not having a national reconciliation? There might be a civil war. Do you fear also that the Shiite leaders might decide to build up the sort of theocracy like in Iran?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. No, of course, I'm heartened by the fact that the leadership of the Shia election parties, the political parties that took their message to the people, campaigned on the notion of minority rights and a unified country. There are still terrorists there. But the terrorists suffered a major defeat when over 8 million people went to the polls and said, you will not intimidate us; you can't stop us from expressing our desire. I'm very optimistic and very encouraged about a free Iraq becoming a stable partner in peace, an ally in the war on terror, and a clear example to others in the greater Middle East that freedom is possible.
Q Last question, Mr. President. Near East, don't you fear that if sooner than later, Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon don't reach a global peace agreement based on land for peace, that all this bunch of Islamic group terrorists -- Hamas, Jihad, Hezbollah -- might try to get rid of Mahmoud Abbas and get in total war with Israel?
THE PRESIDENT: No, that's a concern, of course. And I'm impressed by President Abbas's leadership. We want to support him as he moves forward to develop a Palestinian state based upon democratic institutions. And I think we're making great progress. The good news is, is that Europe and Russia and the United Nations, the United States all understands that we've got to make progress to head off these terrorists so that they don't -- so they can't capture the imaginations of the Palestinian people any more. In other words, terrorism is not the path to peace and security and freedom and hope, and that's democracy. And we're making great progress.
And I look forward to talking to President Chirac about the progress we're making and remind him, as well as the people of France, that we'll stay engaged. The United States of America sees a settlement within reach, like I said in my State of the Union, and therefore, if you can see it in reach, it means all the more reason to stay fully engaged in the peace process.
Q I wish you all the very best, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir. Looking forward to it. Thank you, sir.
Q Thank you very much.
END 10:39 A.M. EST
THE WHITE HOUSE
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT BY ARD-GERMAN TV
The Map Room
10:48 A.M. EST
Q Mr. President, your visit to Europe is an important gesture. Now what many people wonder is, beyond the style, what substance you're going to add to the -- invigorating the transatlantic relationship? Schröder has just proposed a NATO reform, to have a forum to discuss policy. What do you think about things like that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- look, I mean, first of all, I think NATO is vital, and I look forward to reminding him that the U.S. position is that NATO is a vital institution, and that -- but so is the EU. And we look forward to working with the EU.
In terms of -- and I think it's a legitimate question for people to say, look, it's fine to have nice words, but it's, what can we do together; what can we do together to make the world a better place? We can continue to fight disease and hunger, which we will. The United States is actively involved on the continent of Africa on HIV/AIDS, and wants to work with our European friends through the Global Fund to do so. We can work on trade matters, a benefit to the citizens of the U.S. and to Europe that there be active trade. And equally importantly, we can work to spread freedom and peace.
And so I'm going to talk about Middle Eastern peace, my vision about two states living side by side in peace, Israel and Palestine; I'm going to talk about Iran, I'll talk about Syria, I'll talk about Lebanon. I mean, there's a lot of things -- concrete things -- that we need to be working on, so that we can say, when it's all said and done, the world is more peaceful for our children.
Q You mentioned Iran and Syria, two real hot spots, two conflicts in the making. Now, 70 percent of all Germans are convinced, according to a latest poll, that you are already planning a military action against Iran. Now, what do you say to disperse these fears? You know that Blair, Schröder and Bush [sic] would like you to play a more active role in the diplomatic --
THE PRESIDENT: No, I know -- listen, we're playing -- look, first of all, I hear all these rumors about military attacks, and it's just not the truth. We want diplomacy to work. And I believe diplomacy can work, so long as the Iranians don't divide Europe and the United States. And the common goal is for them not to have a nuclear weapon. It's in the interests of the German people and the American people and all people for the Iranians not to develop that nuclear weapon.
And so I want to applaud, and will applaud Gerhard and the other leaders for sending a clear message to Iran. The Iranians need to know -- they know what they need to do. And so what they're trying to do is kind of wiggle out. They're trying to say, well, we won't do anything, because America is not involved. But America is involved. We're in close consultation with our friends. We're on the board of the IAEA. And we will continue to work with friends and allies to make it clear.
The other thing Iran's got to do -- two other things they've got to do, is stop exporting terror through Hezbollah, which could be a devastating blow to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian people, and they ought to open up their country to more democracy and freedom, just like we do in the United States and Germany -- give their people a chance to express themselves in a free way.
Q Now, some people are reminded, when you say, you have no plans for military actions, they're reminded of the pre-Iraq crisis, when you said, no war plans on my desk, and then one month later there was. What's different this time?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's totally different. The Iraqi situation was one where many good people tried diplomacy to solve the problem. Remember, the whole world thought the man had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations thought he had weapons of mass destruction. And that's why -- one of the reasons why they passed 16 resolutions. I mean, this was an issue where diplomacy had been exhausted.
And I went to the United Nations, and said, let's, one more time, hold the man to account. And the United Nations said, disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. That's what the world body said. The United Nations Security Council voted 15 to nothing for that resolution. The Iranian issue hasn't even been to the United Nations yet. In other words, there's a lot more diplomacy to be done. And the people of Germany have just got -- I know the rumors, and I've heard all the gossip, and the false stories about this, that -- the people have got to know that we will try diplomacy for all means.
Q Are you happy with the way things are going in Iraq? They just had elections, but they seemed to not support the moderate Allawi, but more the Shiites. And in that situation, what are you going to ask the Germans to do on top of what they're already doing in the training?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, look, I think Gerhard is comfortable in the training mission. But I'm going to wait for him to tell me if he's interested in participating. If so, the German government would be welcome. Germany is really good at certain things. Like we're good at things. And Germany is good at training and ministerial -- developing ministries and humanitarian aid and the PRT in Afghanistan, for example, is a great German contribution. And what friends do is, they say, are you comfortable; if you're interested in helping this fledgling democracy get to be a more mature democracy -- where's your comfort level? And so I'm looking forward to talking to him about that.
You mentioned the Shias. Allawi is a Shia, himself. My attitude is this: A government that has been voted on by the people is going to be, by its very nature, a reasonable government. In other words, it's a -- governments tend to reflect the will of the people, and the people of Iraq want to live in peace. The mothers and dads want to raise their children in a peaceful environment.
I am heartened by the political posturing going on. I think it is healthy to see the different factions of government begin to emerge, all of whom are saying -- this is an important point -- all of whom are saying, there needs to be a unified Iraq, respect for minority rights. And there's a nationalist feeling there. I mean, some are saying, are you worried about Iranian influence? Well, if the Iranian government tries to destabilize an elected government, I am. But to the extent that the Iraqi people love Iraq before they love Iran, I take comfort. And Iraq is a proud nation, and they care deeply about their national heritage and tradition and future.
Q One word about Germany's aspirations for a permanent seat in the Security Council?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, right. (Laughter.)
Q You knew I'd ask that.
THE PRESIDENT: No, you should ask it. And Gerhard -- I'm very aware of that. And we'll look forward to working -- look, I haven't taken a position on reform yet. And I want to see how this -- the different models of reform come forward. But Germany is a great nation, and Germany is -- Europe is vital for the future of the United States, and Germany is vital for the future of Europe. And I'm open for suggestions.
Q Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming.
Q We should do this every month.
THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to.
END 10:55 A.M. EST
THE WHITE HOUSE
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT BY VRT BELGIAN PUBLIC BROADCASTING
The Map Room
10:41 A.M. EST
Q Mr. President, it's your first international trip in your second term. Does it mean that transatlantic relations are a top priority now for you? And how are you going to restore the European confidence in the American politics?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. No, the transatlantic relations have always been a top priority, because of all the nations in the world, we share common values -- America is more likely to share common values of peace and freedom and human rights and human dignity. And we've had our differences, obviously. But that's okay. The key is to move past differences, and to focus on how we can leave behind a legacy of peace and freedom for our children and grandchildren.
And so I'm looking forward to it. I want to thank the Belgian government and the Belgian people for hosting the meetings -- the NATO meetings and the EU meetings. And Laura and I are anxious to come. It's -- we've got very fond memories of our first trip to Belgium. This is a chance to reconfirm a vital relationship and to say there's so much we can do, whether it be in the Middle East, or joining together to fight disease and poverty and terror. There's a lot we can do.
Q Iraq is a big issue, of course. During your trip, Belgium -- NATO joined in for the training program. Belgium, well, they only are contributing financially. Are you going to insist on more support from a country as Belgium and from Europe?
THE PRESIDENT: No, not from -- listen, the government of Belgium makes the decision that they're comfortable with. And all I can ask is -- say, thanks for considering it, thank you for the financial contribution, and if you're comfortable supporting the training missions with troops, fine; if not, you're still our friend.
Q Yes, especially after the opposition -- the Belgian opposition against Iraqi war.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I mean, I understand that. No, we can't -- I don't believe we should ask people to do things that their people don't want them to do. And in democracies, the government reflects the desires of the people. That's why I'm such a big believer in democracy.
Now, having said that, the vote of the Iraqi people should say loud and clear that democracy is on the move, and we've got to work together. And that's what I'm going to talk to NATO, to make sure they continue the training missions, as well as the EU that helped with the elections, as well as figuring out ways that we can work together to help this new fledgling democracy grow. Because it's in our interest, it's in the Belgian interest and the U.S. interest that democracy take hold in the Middle East.
Q Working together will be your big message over in Europe, but there is also Iran. Now that Syria pledged support for Iran, how far will you support the European diplomatic efforts to solve that issue? And can you exclude American military action?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, first of all, you never want a President to say "never." But military action is certainly not -- it's never the President's first choice. Diplomacy is always the President's first -- at least my first choice.
And we've got a common goal, and that is that Iran -- Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. That's what we have said -- America has said, that's what the Brits have said, the French have said, the Germans have said, when they send their foreign ministers in to talk to the Iranians. In other words, there's a common mission.
And I look forward to kind of making sure we continue to speak with one voice. The -- and it's in our interest they not have a nuclear weapon. And so we want to support the European efforts, and I applaud the European efforts to continue to send a clear message to the Iranians. And we want to be -- we want to -- we will consult, like we have been, to make sure that we fully understand where we stand to achieve that goal.
And I think we -- listen, I think if we continue to speak with one voice and not let them split us up, and keep the pressure on them, we can achieve the objective.
Q Mr. President, freedom through democracy is the centerpiece of your politics. The Belgian government feels that they're doing the same in Central Africa and Congo. How important is the election process over there, since Darfur and AIDS seem to be more of a priority for your administration?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, I appreciate that, very much. First of all, I want to applaud the Belgian government's understanding that you can achieve peace through freedom and democracy. I mean, it's very important that a country that has benefitted from democracy, like Belgium, not ever abandon that for others.
Secondly, we have been helpful in the Congo. My former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and I have discussed this issue a lot. Condi Rice is very concerned about not only the Congo, but other countries on the continent of Africa. And we will work with our friends to not only fight HIV/AIDS -- and, obviously, that Darfur -- we've got to be very careful about Darfur and work together to solve that problem. But, as well, it's to support our friends like the Belgian government in Congo, and will.
And all they've got to do is ask. And I'm the kind of person, if we can't help you, I'll say, we can't help you. But if we can help you, we will. Interesting enough, there's a wonderful movie called Hotel Rwanda, by the way. And the Belgian citizen who ran the hotel came to visit me yesterday in the Oval Office. He's a spectacular guy. I said, "You're a hero." And he said, "No, I'm not a hero." I said, "Well, you are to a lot of people," for being such a humanitarian and drawing -- you know, to helping draw the world's attention to what it means to go through a genocide. And free nations must work together to prevent genocide.
Q Can the Belgian government read a positive gesture in your first visit to Brussels now?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, they already have. Listen, I'm absolutely convinced that the -- His Majesty -- my visit with His Majesty and Her Majesty will be great, and the Prime Minister -- who I've known for a long time -- will be good. I'm looking forward to this, I really am. It's -- I remember going to the chocolate shop and -- which was not diplomacy, it was pure commercialism on my part. But it was -- it was kind of a sweet reminder of our trip there, and I'm just confident that the trip will be equally as good this time.
Q Thank you so much, Mr. President, for these kind words.
THE PRESIDENT: Good luck to you.
END 10:47 A.M. EST