Despite urging by Iraq report, Bush won't talk with Iran, Syria
U.S. Presidents says countries it engages in dialogue may not fund terror; PM: Conditions not ripe for Syria talks.
United States President George W. Bush said on Thursday he has no plans to hold talks with Syria and Iran, despite the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report.
Bush said that the Americans had made clear their position that they would not hold talks with countries that support terrorist activities.
"Countries that participate in talks must not fund terrorism, must help the young democracy survive, must help with the economics of the country," Bush said, during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "If people are not committed, if Syria and Iran are not committed to that concept, then they shouldn't bother to show up."
"If we were to have a conversation, it would be this one, to Syria: Stop destabilizing the Siniora government. We believe that the Siniora government should be supported, not weakened. Stop allowing money and arms to cross your border into Iraq. Don't provide safe haven for terrorist groups. We've made that position very clear," he added.
With regard to Iran, Bush said, "We have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a possible change in U.S. policy, a policy that's been in place for 27 years, and that is that if they would like to engage the United States, that they've got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program. We've made our choice. Iran now has an opportunity to make its choice."
A day after the release of the report, which said the stabilization of Iraq depends among other things on addressing the Israeli-Arab conflict, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday that he does not believe the conditions are ripe for negotiations with Syria.
He also said Israel is opposed to "any effort to draw a connection or link between the issue of Iraq and the issue of the Middle East," and believes Bush also holds a similar view.
Regarding the report's recommendation that talks be initiated with Syria, Olmert said, "the views I heard expressed by the president and from all the other members of the administration regarding the Syrian issue in the past few days ... is that there are no preparations for possible negotiations - not American-Syrian and not Israeli-Syrian."
However, in Syria, the Baker-Hamilton report was well received by officials who said it offered a positive outlook on the role of countries bordering Iraq to restore calm there. Official Syrian sources also said that Damascus sees the restoration of the Golan Heights to Syria as the primary goal of negotiations and described the report's call for peace in the region as "objective."
An Israeli political source criticized the report for not mentioning the Saudi peace initiative that was passed in a 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut; Olmert looks upon it favorably as something with the basis to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Saeb Erekat, a senior adviser to the PA chairman, welcomed the report's call for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and said, "we hope the U.S. administration will translate the report into actions. Our region needs peace and dialogue."
Blair: Iraq war and Middle East conflict connected Blair said Thursday during the press conference that the efforts to stabilize Iraq depend on progress in the Middle East peace process.
The British prime minister also said that failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ensure continued international terrorism, adding that success in Iraq depends on victory over extremists across the "broader Middle East."
Both Bush and Blair welcomed the report, authored by a bipartisan commission headed by former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton, and said its recommendations would be thoroughly studied. The leaders were careful, however, to emphasize that they would not necessarily accept all of the report's recommendations.
The Baker-Hamilton report is "certainly an important part of our deliberations and an important part of our discussions this morning," Bush said. "I don't think Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton expect us to accept every recommendation."
Blair, who has stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, said he welcomed the conclusions of the report despite its criticism of past policies that both he and Bush advanced.
It "offers a strong way forward," Blair said. "The consequences of failure are severe."
The British premier also pointed to Iran's support of Shiite militants in southern Iraq, saying, "Iran has been ... basically arming, supporting, financing terrorism."
Meanwhile, the U.S. congress on Thursday passed a bill against Hamas, which will go into effect when the president signs it into law.
The bill was confirmed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and bans any contact between the U.S. and a Hamas government, unless the latter meets the preconditions put forth by the international Quartet (to recognize Israel, to give up violence and accept past Israel-PLO accords).
The American Israel Public Affair Committee, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, which pressed for the passing of the bill, expressed satisfaction with the progress.