French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President George W. Bush Joint Press Conference (Excerpts)

June 14, 2008

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran
  • Syria

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PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Thank you, George. Perhaps a first question from the French press.

Q (As translated.) To both of you, what specific, concrete requests do you wish to make or send to the Syrian President, Bashar Assad, so that he normalize his relations with the West, and of course to achieve stability in Lebanon and in the rest of --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, my message would be, stop fooling around with the Iranians and stop harboring terrorists; serve as a constructive force in the Middle East to help the advance of a Palestinian state; make it clear to Hamas that terror should stop for the sake of peace; and make it clear to their Iranian allies that the West is serious when we talk about stopping them from learning how to enrich, which would be the first -- a major step for developing a bomb; and to make it clear to their Iranian allies that Hezbollah is a destabilizing force for not only Lebanon but elsewhere.

That would be my message. I'd make it clear to him that there is a better way forward for Syria. And Nicolas and I talked about this subject today.

PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Well, George and I totally agree on the need to guarantee Lebanon's independence. Lebanon is entitled, like any other country anywhere in the world, to its independence and to remain independent. And this is one of the preconditions that I have laid down -- the election of a new President for Lebanon. That is exactly what happened. It was done with the election of General Suleiman.

Second point, we will go through with the process, the procedure of the international tribunal to track down those who assassinated Mr. Rafik Hariri. But once I have said to Bashar Assad, let the presidential process run its course, we would get back into contact with them, and that is exactly what we've done. We have to let Lebanon stand free.

I also share the view of the United States of America on the fact that the Iranian question, and the fact that they might get their hands on a nuclear weapon is of the essence; it is a major issue. Syria has to peal off, as much as possible, from Iran in its desire to lay its hands on a nuclear weapon. Once that has happened, then the process will continue.

Lastly, I told the President of the United States that we have taken the initiative of convening a summit for the Mediterranean, and to my knowledge, Syria is part of the Mediterranean region, is a Mediterranean country. Now if we should go around the Mediterranean region and start picking and choosing, and simply inviting those who correspond to exactly our criteria, then we'll probably have a meeting with very few people attending it.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I want to call on Bill Plante from CBS, but before I do, I want to say something about one of your colleagues.

America lost a really fine citizen yesterday when Tim Russert passed away. I've had the privilege of being interviewed by Tim Russert. I found him to be a hardworking, thorough, decent man. And Tim Russert loved his country, he loved his family, and he loved his job a lot. And we're going to miss him all, and we send our deepest sympathies to Maureen, his wife, and Luke, his son. I know they're hurting right now, and hopefully the prayers of a lot of Tim's friends and a lot of Americans will help them during this time of difficulty.


Q Mr. President, Iran's government spokesman, shortly after the package had been presented by the Europeans, dismissed it out of hand, saying that if it does not -- if it includes suspension of enrichment, it absolutely will not fly. Can you convince the rest of your allies and partners to enforce the sanctions which are envisioned in that package? It seems that many of them are reluctant.

PRESIDENT BUSH: That's probably a question you ought to ask the President of France. Let me just give you my impressions of the situation. We have worked hard -- "we" being our allies -- have worked hard to say to the Iranian people: There is a better way forward for you; you've got a government that has isolated you; you've got a government that is creating the conditions so that you can't live a full and hopeful life, and the reason why that's happening is because your government has defied the demands, the just demands of the free world. In other words, they refuse to abandon their desires to develop the know-how which could lead to a nuclear weapon.

Now, they say, well, we want civilian nuclear power. And as I explained to Nicolas today, I agree, they should have the right to have civilian nuclear power. As a matter of fact, Vladimir Putin delivered that very message to the Iranian regime. He also delivered this message: that because you have been untrustworthy, because you haven't fully disclosed your programs to the IAEA in the past, that we can't trust you to enrich. And therefore Russia will provide the fuel necessary for the civilian nuclear reactor. And therefore you don't need to [en]rich.

So our demands are just and fair. And Bill, we have been implementing the sanctions through the United Nations. And we're working with our friends and allies. As a matter of fact, much of my discussions on this trip have been dominated by this subject because our allies understand that a nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilizing, and they understand that it would be a major blow to world peace.

So I'm disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand. It's an indication to the Iranian people that their leadership is willing to isolate them further. And our view is we want the Iranian people to flourish and to benefit. We want their economy to be strong so people can grow up in peace and hope; and they've got a -- this Ahmadinejad is obviously -- takes a different position from that. So his policies are what's creating the depravation inside Iran.

PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Well, I think France's position is well known. If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, that is totally unacceptable. That's very clear. It is an unacceptable threat to world stability, especially when you think of the repeated statements made by the President of Iran right now. Anyone is entitled -- including Iran -- to access to civilian nuclear energy. We will help them to do so if they act in good faith. If the Iranian authorities are in good faith then they should let inspections run their course. If they nothing to hide, then they have nothing to hide -- let's show it.

And meanwhile the only solution in order to persuade the Iranians of this is a faultless, seamless sanction system, you see. The door is wide open to access to civilian nuclear technology -- straightaway, now. But as far as military nuclear access is concerned, this is "no" on the part of the international community. And as the President just said, Vladimir Putin has with us sung from the same hymn sheet and our position will not change. The Iranian people -- who are great people and a major civilization -- they need economic progress, they need growth, they deserve better than the impasse, the dead-end into which some of their leaders are leading them.

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