Olmert draws fire in U.S. over praise of Iraq war
At White House, PM calls for isolating Iran until it ends nuclear program; Bush: Risk extends beyond Mideast.
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush, speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, called Monday for the world to unite in isolating Iran until it "gives up its nuclear ambitions." In addition, Olmert publicly praised the American operation in Iraq, which he said brought stability to the Middle East.
Politicians from the Democratic Party said they wanted to speak to Olmert about his comments on the Iraq war before responding publicly, but said they were uncomfortable with the comments. If Olmert planned his remarks and intended them to come out as they did, a Democratic official said, then they are not acceptable and can be seen as an attempt to influence the American political dispute.
On Iran, Bush, in White House remarks to reporters, said, "If they continue to move forward with the program, there has to be a consequence. And a good place to start is working together to isolate the country. And my hope is that there are rational people inside the government who recognize isolation is not in their country's interest."
"It's very important for the world to unite to say to the Iranians, 'If you choose to continue to move forward, you will be isolated,'" Bush said. "One source of isolation would be economic."
The U.S. president said if the Iranians want to have a dialogue, "We have shown them a way forward," referring to the American-European demand that Iran halt enrichment. He also said it's important to convince Iran that isolating the country is an international position rather than an Israeli or an American one.
"Iran's nuclear ambitions are not in the world's interest," Bush said. "If Iran had nuclear weapons, it would be terribly destabilizing."
His prescription for dealing with Iran was diplomatic, having the United Nations impose sanctions to force Iran to stop uranium enrichment. Diplomats at the United Nations have been bogged down for weeks trying to agree to a resolution that would place some sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt is enrichment.
Olmert, accusing Iran of "fanaticism and extremism," voiced support for United States-led efforts to impose UN sanctions on Iran and said Tehran must not be allowed to "cross the technological threshold" to develop a nuclear bomb.
Bush and Olmert spoke in the White House for about 45 minutes.
Olmert said Israel and other countries in the area should be thankful to the United States and Bush. He said the Iraq war had a dramatic, positive effect on security and stability in the Mideast, as well as having strategic importance from Israel's perspective and that of moderate Arab states.
Olmert said he was satisfied with the position Bush took on Iran, which went further than in their previous meeting in May. "Iran's role in the conversation was quite clear, very serious and very significant, and I left this meeting with an outstanding feeling," said Olmert.
Tehran's goal is to "ultimately wipe Israel off the map," Olmert said on NBC television's "Today" show. "The whole world has to join forces in order to stop it. This is a problem of every country. I know that President Bush is fully aware of that."
On the Palestinian question, Bush and Olmert reiterated their previously stated positions.
Bush said the two leaders discussed their commitment to the two-state solution and the need for the Palestinian government to adopt the road map and the Quartet principles: recognizing Israel, renouncing terror and abiding by previous agreements.
Olmert said he was prepared to have "serious dialogue" with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and that he would make every possible effort to help Abbas begin such a dialogue with Israel. Olmert said he hoped there would be a new Palestinian government based on the road map and the principles of the Quartet (the U.S., European Union, UN and Russia).
Olmert later said that the U.S. and Israel have been engaged in "intensive dialogue" over the last few weeks and have been exchanging ideas about advancing the Palestinian channel for talks. He did not go into details, but said there would not be an international conference, which he appears to oppose.
In response to a question about whether the United States had asked him to moderate military activity in Gaza, Olmert said he didn't recall a specific request but that it might have been raised during the meeting.
He said Bush expressed pride in the American veto at the UN Security Council regarding a condemnation of the Israeli shelling of the Gaza town of Beit Hanun. The issue of evacuating outposts was not raised during the meeting with Bush or during Olmert's meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday, Olmert said.