Remarks by the President During Speech on Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit (Excerpts)

May 9, 2006

. . .

Q Mr. President, my question concerns the Iranian situation.


Q I'm very worried about it, and I don't think I'm alone. I know that you and Secretary Rice and Ambassador Bolten are doing everything humanly possible to unite the global community in persuading the Iranians that getting the bomb is not in their own interest. And even if you get the Chinese the Russians to come around eventually on meaningful sanctions, my fear is it's liable to take so long it will be too little and too late. So I assume there's a good possibility, given their attitude, they're going to get the bomb. And my question is, if they do, what next?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. First of all, it's a great question because he is bringing to the front here a question of international significance. Our objective is not to let them get the bomb, first of all. And I am an optimistic person and, therefore, believe -- I'm going to rephrase your question a different way: how are you going to stop them from getting it in the first place -- not what are you going to do if they get one.

And the first goal -- first of all, all options -- the first option and the most important option is diplomacy. As you know, I've made the tough decision to commit American troops into harm's way. It's the toughest decision a President can ever make, but I want you to know that I tried diplomacy -- in other words, a President has got to be able to say to the American people, diplomacy didn't work. And therefore, the first choice, and a choice that I think will work with the Iranians is diplomacy. And I believe we can accomplish this through diplomacy.

Any diplomatic effort must have a common goal, and the common goal is precisely what you said, sir, which is the Iranians should not have a nuclear weapon, or the capacity to make a nuclear weapon.

Now, that wasn't always the case during my presidency. In other words, people have come together around that goal. And the countries that have come around that goal are not only our allies in Europe, but China and Russia agree. So the first step toward good diplomacy is to have different countries agree to a common goal, which is that the Iranians should not have the capacity and/or a nuclear weapon. So that's positive.

Secondly, we're now working on the tactics as to how to convince the Iranians through -- to get rid of their ambitions through a united front. And so what you're watching play out -- by the way, because we live in a transparent society, everything, of course, is in the newspapers -- which is fine, that's healthy. But that's not the case when you're dealing with a non-transparent society.

And so we got six countries -- Condi was up there dealing with them last night, sitting around the table saying, how are we going to achieve our common goal. So what you're watching is, of course, all the guessing and speculating about the different positions of the six countries sitting around the table. But I believe that through hard work, we will continue to keep people bound together because there is a common interest to prevent the Iranians from getting that weapon. They understand -- the countries understand the danger inherent with the Iranians having a weapon. They understand the consequences of a nuclear Iran, particularly when you have a President who's threatening people.

And so we're at an early stage of diplomacy at this point in time. And one of the options, of course, is to go to the United Nations Security Council. And once in the United Nations Security Council, we're trying to reach -- what does the resolution say. My objective -- and thank you for your kinds words about Condi and myself working hard to keep the common front. It's very important for the Iranians to know they will be isolated in the world; that the rest of the world, much of the world, shares the same demands that those of us who are heading the -- involved in the negotiations say.

But you're right, this is a very difficult issue. And we will continue to work through diplomatic channels to make it clear that we mean what we say. And, obviously, part of making the diplomacy work is, what will be the consequences if the Iranians decide maybe not to listen to the rational demands of the world. And you mentioned one, economic sanctions. But we're -- and I'm not going to comment on that, because I think it's very important for good negotiators to keep their cards close to the vest, and then at the appropriate time, make it clear what our intentions are.

This is a serious issue, it's taking a lot of our time, as it should. Ultimately, of course, I would hope that an American President is able to say to the Iranian people, you're free, and we look forward to having good relations with you. Liberty has got an amazing way of changing the world. I speak to a group of people who know that better than most. You have seen liberty transform the world during your lifetime. You've seen -- and one of my favorite ways of explaining the effects of liberty and my belief in what liberty can do is to explain the relationship I have with the Japanese Prime Minister.

I bet I've got some World War II vets here. I'll bet there's some people who know World War II vets who are here. I bet people are here who know somebody who was called into action to fight the Japanese in World War II. And I can -- I report to you that the Japanese Prime Minister is my friend in keeping the peace. And there's a reason why -- is because after World War II, one of my predecessors, Harry S. Truman, had the belief that the United States should help that country, our enemy, become a democracy -- not styled -- an American-style democracy, but a Japanese-style democracy. And because of the faith in the capacity of freedom to change people's way of thinking, because he felt strong to that conviction, today a Japanese-style democracy is a friend of America.

Freedom has the capacity to change enemies into friends. And so in the long run, the best way to deal with problems such as the Iranian problem is to encourage people to be free. And the fundamental question is, do people want to be free? And the cornerstone of my foreign policy is my strong belief that freedom is universal. People desire to be free.

One of the lessons that your generation has taught our generation is that staying strong to the values that America subscribes to -- human rights, human dignity, the universality of freedom -- has changed parts of the world in incredible ways. Just look at Europe -- this is a long answer -- (laughter) -- to an important question. And the reason I'm framing it this way, is I want you to understand how I think about laying the foundation of peace so we can deal with not only the issue that you asked about, sir, but other issues that will inevitably come up during the course of the 21st century.

But freedom has the capacity to lay the foundations for peace, and we must not lose sight of the historical examples. Take Europe, for example. There was two major conflicts in Europe, World War I and World War II. Today Europe is whole, free, and at peace because democracies don't war. It's one of the historical lessons.

And so, in the short-term, on the issue you described, we will keep our diplomacy going, we'll be knitted up as best as we possibly can with different -- with as many nations as possible -- six of them at the table last night in New York, by the way. And in the meantime, it is -- we will continue to advance the freedom agenda.

. . .