Bush meets with Sarkozy, shares concerns over Iran

PARIS, France (CNN) — U.S. President George Bush met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday for talks that focused on shared international concerns as much as they did on the two countries’ strong bilateral relationship.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy greets President Bush at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Saturday.

Bush, on the sixth day of his European farewell tour, said the two leaders had a “meaningful, good discussion” that focused on Iran.

“We both have a mutual desire to prevent the Iranians from gaining the knowledge so that they can build a weapon,” Bush said.

Bush criticized Iran for not cooperating with United Nations resolutions in shutting down its nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Iran on Saturday to guarantee the “peaceful nature” of its nuclear program to get cooperation and support from the EU.

There were reports out of Tehran Saturday that an Iranian government official rejected the EU package of incentives. Reports from the semi-official Iranian FARS News Agency stated that Iran has developed its own nuclear proposal and believes both reports have similarities.

Bush said he supports the idea of a civilian nuclear energy program in Iran but that the country has shown it can’t be trusted to enrich the uranium necessary to produce it.

Bush and Sarkozy said they back the proposal that Russia provide the fuel Iran would need for a civilian nuclear reactor.

“Our allies understand that a nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilizing,” Bush said. “They understand that it would be a major blow to world peace.”

“The Iranian people, who are great people and a major civilization …need economic progress,” Sarkozy said. “They need growth. They deserve better than the impasse, the dead end into which some of their leaders are leading them.”

The U.S. president also criticized Syria for supporting Hezbollah, which he called a destabilizing force in neighboring Lebanon and elsewhere.

“Stop fooling around with the Iranians and stop harboring terrorists,” Bush urged Syria. “Serve as a constructive force in the Middle East to help the advance of a Palestinian state.

“Make it clear to Hamas that their 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 uranium.”

With just seven months left in office, Bush is on a farewell tour of Europe that has already taken him to Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency, and to Germany, Italy, and Vatican City. Sunday, he and his wife start a two-day trip to Britain.

Friday, Bush urged Europeans to stand firm with the United States as it seeks to transform the Middle East. Bush compared that Middle Eastern transition to the Marshall Plan, the massive U.S. program to rebuild Europe after World War II, which was signed into U.S. law 60 years ago this year.

Sarkozy acknowledged the relationship between France and the United States has had its “hiccups” over the years, but it has remained constant.

“It is a privileged relationship,” Sarkozy said. “It’s been privileged for two centuries now.”

The French leader said the allies have talked frankly when they disagreed, acknowledging and accepting that each country has its own “strategic interest.” Watch as thousands in Paris protest Bush’s visit Video

Saturday afternoon, Bush planned to visit two war memorial sites, one American and one French. His day ends with a dinner at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris.

Bush took time out of the news conference with Sarkozy to honor NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert, who died Friday.

“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. 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.”

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~ by richart123 on June 19, 2008.

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