Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bush to Look Again at European Stand on Iran

James Harding and Hugh Williamson in Mainz, The Financial Times:
President George W. Bush on Wednesday showed a new willingness to consider a European-led diplomatic approach to ending Iran's nuclear threat, underlining one of the chief messages of his trip to Europe that he has no appetite for another war.

In spite of remaining differences between Mr Bush and Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, said that “there has been a convergence as a result of their discussions in Mainz on Wednesday. Mr Bush was now going to “go back [home] and think about” the European strategy, Mr Hadley said.

Wednesday's meeting should not be taken as a shift in policy but it represents a new openness to one. France, Germany and Britain have led negotiations with Iran, which the Bush administration has supported in principle but refused to join. The European troika has pleaded with Washington, arguing that without the offer of US economic incentives and security guarantees it will be unable to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

German officials emerged from Wednesday's meeting with an invigorated sense of US willingness to co-operate, but uncertainty about what form that co-operation might take. It was clear that the “US wants to be more active in finding a solution”, one senior German official said. Mr Bush was eager to receive assurances from Mr Schröder, Mr Hadley said, that both the US and the Europeans sought the end of Iran's development of nuclear weapons and that there would be “consequences” for Tehran if it built a nuclear bomb.

Nevertheless, in one significant difference the German chancellor called for flexibility on both sides, while Mr Bush believed Iran, not the US or its allies, needed to give ground. ...