Huffpost Politics

Bush, EU Threaten Iran With New Sanctions

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KRANJ, Slovenia — President Bush claimed progress Tuesday in his legacy-shaping drive to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, winning European promises to tighten pressure on Tehran with U.N. sanctions and possibly other new penalties.

Bush, attending the final United States-European Union summit of his presidency, is working against time to secure one of the top foreign priorities of his presidency: halting Iran's presumed ambition to join the global club of nuclear-armed nations and vastly increase its influence and reach.

"If they end up with 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?'" Bush said at the opening of a weeklong farewell tour of Europe.

"Now is the time for there to be strong diplomacy," the president said.

Oil-rich Iran has been barely pinched by the sanctions imposed so far by the United Nations and a solo U.S. effort to crimp Iran's vast overseas financial operations. The U.S. penalties have had a ripple effect, though, with international banks scaling back their dealings with Iran.

Still, Iran has not only continued enriching uranium, producing material that could be used to power an electricity plant or make a nuclear bomb, but has expanded and improved its program

Since severing ties with Iran nearly three decades ago, Washington has had little leverage with Tehran. It needs cooperation from other nations that have meaningful economic ties to Tehran, a major energy supplier, to make any threats real.

Bush appeared to get closer to that goal in three hours of talks with leaders of the European Union, a political and economic coalition of 27 countries.

A joint declaration said the United States and Europe "are ready to supplement those (previous) sanctions with additional measures" if Iran does not halt enrichment. It also said they would "work together ... to take steps to ensure Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism."

It was unclear whether this second pledge meant Europeans had signed on for the kind of harsh measures the U.S. favors, such as banning business with Iranian banks, or merely represented a repeat of previous calls for closer monitoring of dealings with them.

Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, acknowledged that nations have been reluctant to implement the latest round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. He said officials are waiting to see what happens when the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, visits Iran soon to present a package of penalities and incentives to entice its leaders into negotiations over the nuclear standoff. The offer, an update to one from 2006 than went nowhere, is being developed by the the United States, along with Britain, Germany, France, Russia, China, and possibly Italy.

Hadley said a rejection by Iran would open the door for the international community to "get much more aggressive" about enforcing the U.N. penalties. He said it also would allow nations to develop other steps together or act unilaterally to further squeeze Iran's vast international business and banking relationships.

Bush, at a news conference with E.U. leaders, summed up his message to Iranian leaders: "We're going to continue to isolate you; we'll continue to work on sanctions; we'll find new sanctions if need be, if you continue to deny the just demands of a free world, which is to give up your enrichment program."

"They can't be trusted with enrichment," he said flatly. "Now is the time for all of us to work together to stop them. There's a lot of urgencies when it comes to dealing with Iran."

Assessments vary widely, but it is widely presumed that Tehran will have enough fissile material for a weapon within a few years. A December U.S. intelligence report said Iran shelved its warhead program five years ago. But the Bush administration believes its enrichment is part of a still-alive plan to become nuclear-armed, though Iran says it only seeks civilian nuclear power.

The White House regarded the developments in Slovenia as a victory.

But Jon Wolfsthal, an expert in the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said they won't have much impact.

Bush has little leverage left with either Iran or Europe, he said, and the chances of getting Russia and China to go along with any new U.N. sanctions proposal are remote, he said. He said European cooperation on banking restrictions were due to widespread recognition that the Iran program "cannot be allowed to drift until the United States has a new president."

Bush continued to press his case later Tuesday, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a government guesthouse north of Berlin.

In Slovenia, Bush also received public endorsement of his main condition for a new global agreement on climate change: that China and India, not just developed nations, must be parties to such requirements. He said an accord could be reached by the end of his presidency in January.

"Unless China and India are at the table, unless they agree to a goal, unless they agree to firm strategies to achieve that goal, then I don't see how any international agreement can be effective," Bush said at a news conference on a lush, sun-splashed lawn, with medieval Brdo Castle and craggy mountain peaks forming twin backdrops.

Both Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who as president of the European Council played host to the summit, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, agreed.

"We need that agreement to be global, so, of course, to add also China, India and others," Barroso said.

Jansa said, however, that the developed world must take the lead, and that all emissions reduction goals should be mandatory _ not voluntary as Bush has advocated.

Bush also fielded questions on economic woes at home.

He essentially rejected the idea of possible government intervention to prop up the value of the U.S. dollar. He said he believed in a strong-dollar policy, but that world economies will end up setting the currency's value.

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Associated Press Writers Snjezana Vukic and William Kole in Kranj, Slovenia, contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

U.S.-European Union summit: http://tinyurl.com/3vwqog

Transatlantic Economic Council: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/enterprise_policy/inter_rel/tec/index_en.htm