French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama Joint Press Conference (Excerpts)

June 6, 2009

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

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Q Yes, right here. Mr. President, you said yesterday that you hoped to see significant progress in the Middle East by the end of this year. What did you mean by that?
And, President Sarkozy, you had a meeting earlier this week with the Iranian Foreign Minister. What message was he able to give you to pass on to the President? Thank you.

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PRESIDENT SARKOZY: It is not for me to speak for the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran. I can tell you what I told him. I said to him, number one, that he had to take the hand stretched out by Barack Obama and set a meeting so that the group of six, the six-party talks start again; secondly, that we all were aligned if Iran wants access to civilian nuclear energy, it is entitled to that. But if it wants nuclear -- military nuclear, the answer is no. And you have to understand this fair and square.

I said, if your interests are peaceful, then accept controls. We cannot accept the Iranian leader to make extremely aggressive statements on the one hand, and IAEA checks and controls not be accepted by the Iranians, and at the same time, to give them access to civilian nuclear energy.

Again, France and the United States are working hand in glove on this one. Iran is a great nation, a great civilization. We want peace, we want dialogue, and we want to help them develop. But we do not want military nuclear weapons to spread, and we are clear on that.

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PRESIDENT OBAMA: Like President Sarkozy, my view is that Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon would be profoundly dangerous -- not just to the United States, not just to Israel, but to the entire region and, over time, the entire world. Because there's no possibility that Iran gets a nuclear weapon in which you don't see a whole host of countries in the Middle East decide "We've got to go for it as well."
This is part of the reason, by the way, when it comes to North Korea and Iran that I've said it's not sufficient for the United States or France or other members of the nuclear club simply to say "All of you have to stop, but we're not going to do anything to change ourselves."

I gave a speech in Prague in which I said all of us have responsibilities; that I am going to be traveling to Moscow for a summit to restart significant arms -- nuclear arms reduction negotiation with the Russians; that I want to reinvigorate our nonproliferation treaty. I think we should create a stable consensus in which countries who want peaceful -- nuclear power for peaceful civilian use are able to do so, and that our goal collectively is to eliminate proliferation, lock down loose nuclear materials that are out there, negotiate a whole series of treaties that lower the temperature, and ultimately make nuclear weapons obsolete.

Now, that's not going to happen in my time, my lifetime; it won't happen in President Sarkozy's lifetime. But if we start moving on that pathway and other countries can look and say the United States is not just talking the talk, but it's walking the walk, then I think that will indicate to the Iranians, for example, that the goal here is not to single them out per se -- it's to suggest that this is dangerous for everybody, including them. Their security interests will not be served by possession of a nuclear weapon.

The last point I'd make on Iran, the Supreme Leader has said "We don't want nuclear weapons; that's not what we're pursuing." I'm happy to hope that that's true, but in international relations I can't just base things on hope, especially when you see actions to the contrary.

One of my famous predecessors, Ronald Reagan, I think said it pretty well when he said, "Trust, but verify." And we're not even to the point yet where we're having those conversations with the Iranians. But ultimately, if in fact Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, then it shouldn't be that hard for us to have a series of negotiations in which the international community feels that confidence, and in which Iran then is able to enjoy a whole host of economic and political benefits and gain much greater legitimacy in all of its other endeavors.

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