Joint Press Conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush (Excerpts)

May 23, 2006

PRESIDENT BUSH: The Prime Minister and I have known each other since 1998, when he was the mayor of Jerusalem, and I was the governor of Texas. And I remember you greeting me in your office there, and you probably thought you were going to be the Prime Minister - I wasn't sure if I was going to be the President.


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And finally, the Prime Minister and I shared our concerns about the Iranian regime's nuclear weapons ambitions. The United States and the international community have made our common position clear: We're determined that the Iranian regime must not gain nuclear weapons.

I told the Prime Minister what I've stated publicly before: Israel is a close friend and ally of the United States, and in the event of any attack on Israel, the United States will come to Israel's aid. The United States is strongly committed, and I'm strongly committed, to the security of Israel as a vibrant, Jewish state.

I look forward to our continuing discussions after this press conference. I'm not sure the delegations realize this yet, but we're going to shed ourselves of our delegations and the Prime Minister and I are going to go up to the Residence and sit down and have a continued dialogue. And if we decide to brief our delegations on what we discuss, we will do so. But if not, they're going to have to guess. And then I'm looking forward to dinner.


PRIME MINISTER OLMERT: Thank you, Mr. President. I thank you for your kind invitation to visit Washington, and for the opportunity to meet with you and discuss the many issues on our common agenda. Our meeting was enlightening, and I look forward to working closely with you in the coming years, to deepen the friendship, understanding and bilateral ties between the United States and Israel.

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We discussed the Iranian issue. The Iranian regime, which calls for Israel's destruction, openly denies the Holocaust, and views the United States as its enemy, makes every effort to implement its fundamentalist religious ideology and blatantly disregards the demands of the international community. The Iranian threat is not only a threat to Israel, it is a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the entire world. And it could mark the beginning of a dangerous and irresponsible arms race in the Middle East.

Mr. President, we appreciate your efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, including through the U.N. Security Council. They are of crucial importance. The international community cannot tolerate a situation where a regime with a radical ideology and a long tradition of irresponsible conduct becomes a nuclear weapons state. This is a moment of truth. It is still not too late to prevent it from happening.

I thank you again for your gracious hospitality and for our discussions. I look forward to continue working with you, Mr. President. Thank you very much.

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Q: Mr. Prime Minister, are you satisfied from what you have learned out of your meeting with the President with regard of the Iranian issue? And what's your message to the Israeli public about this issue? And, Mr. President, with your permission, there is a military option, from your point of view, to solve the threat of the Iranian problem, their work to getting a nuclear weapon?

PRIME MINISTER OLMERT: The Iranian issue was discussed, indeed, between the President and myself. And we'll continue to talk about it later. Obviously, there is a major threat posed, as I've said already, and the President said, by the Iranians and their attempts to have non-conventional capabilities and also to build up delivery systems and the ballistic missiles that can hit major centers all across Europe, not just in the Middle East. This is something that needs to be stopped. We discussed this issue at length, and there is a total agreement and understanding between the President and myself that there is a need to stop it. And we reviewed the different ways how to do it, and I am very satisfied with what I heard from the President and on what we agreed that we would continue to do in order to achieve this goal.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Our primary objective is to solve this problem diplomatically. I've told the American people that I will, on all issues, we'll try diplomacy first and exhaust diplomacy. And I explained to the Prime Minister that - about our diplomatic efforts - the most important thing in diplomacy is that there be a shared goal - in other words, you have to have a common objective, a common goal in order to get people to come together around it. And now we have got a common goal throughout most of the world, and that is, Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. And that's important, and we are now working the diplomatic front around that goal.

We have a variety of options, one of which, of course, is the United Nations Security Council, if the Iranians aren't willing to show progress toward that goal. We're working very closely with what's called the EU3. That's Germany, England and France. And I've been pleased, and Secretary of State Rice has been pleased about their willingness to stay tough on the goal, of achieving the goal. Sometimes when you've got a variety of negotiating parties, it's easier for one - a non-transparent negotiator to pick off a weak link. And yet, they've been firm, and that's important for Israel to know. It's important for me to praise our partners for that strength of purpose.

Obviously, there's other parties we have to work with, including Russia and China. In other words, you can't get anything out of the U.N. Security Council unless there's an agreement that the Iranians are not negotiating in good faith and aren't willing to go forward. And so we're spending a lot of time working with our Russian friends, in particular, to make it clear to them that Iran is showing no good faith.

And one of the interesting issues that the Iranians have tossed out in this debate is that they believe they have the sovereign right for civilian nuclear power. And my position has been, fine, it's just you don't get to enrich the fuel necessary for the plant. And so we provided I thought a very interesting opportunity for them to say, if you want civilian nuclear power, you can have your plant and the international consortium will provide the fuel for the plant. And we'll pick up the spent fuel from the plant. And this was a very realistic and reasonable approach, and it's been rejected by the Iranians.

And so I say to our friends in our consortium, I'm not so sure these people really do want a solution and, therefore, let us make sure that we're willing to be working together in the U.N. Security Council. That's where we are. We're headed -- we're on the cusp of going to the Security Council. And I repeat to your question, obviously, we'd like to solve this issue peacefully and diplomatically. And the more the Iranians refuse to negotiate in good faith, the more countries are beginning to realize that we must continue to work together.

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