Tags: bush | iran | europe

Bush Pushes Europe to Get Tough on Iran

Monday, 09 Jun 2008 11:20 PM

US President George W. Bush on Tuesday looked to persuade European leaders to tighten the squeeze on Iran's finances, a central message of what was likely his farewell tour of the continent.

Bush, whose term ends in January, will hold talks with Slovenia's president and prime minister before attending the annual US-European Union summit for the last time, then head to Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The US president also hopes to secure more help with war-battered Afghanistan during his visit, which also takes him to Germany, Italy, the Vatican, France, England, and Northern Ireland.

But the White House warns to expect no "dramatic announcements" on disputes over climate change or trade, or on new ways to prop up the faltering Middle East peace process at the summit in nearby Brdo Pri Kranju.

Washington and its partners will jointly warn Tehran to freeze its suspect nuclear program or face further sanctions, according to a draft of the half-day diplomatic gathering's final joint statement, obtained by AFP.

At the same time, amid growing fears of possible US military action before Bush leaves office, the statement notes that the leaders "reiterate our belief that a mutually satisfactory, negotiated solution remains open to Iran."

Tehran rejects Western charges that its nuclear programme hides an atomic weapons quest, but is under three rounds of UN sanctions for refusing to freeze its uranium enrichment efforts.

Bush hopes to persuade the EU to do more to stop the flow of money through Iranian banks, which Washington believes are helping to fund Iran's nuclear programme, according to the US special envoy to the European Union.

"There are Iranian bank activities that could be curbed, there could be further restrictions" in keeping with a UN Security Council resolution adopted in March to beef up sanctions on Tehran, said the diplomat, C. Boyden Gray.

Both sides must "make sure there are no evasions whereby Iranian banks can continue to do business to further this nuclear programme which I think we all agree must be terminated," he told reporters here on the eve of the summit.

The United States wants the European Union to take measures against the Iranian Melli Bank by stopping its branches in Hamburg, London and Paris from operating.

The Europeans have said they are prepared to take a tougher stance but are waiting to see what comes out of the new cooperation offer which the major powers are about to put to Tehran.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, in Slovenia for the summit, indicated Monday that he will probably travel to Tehran on Sunday for talks aimed at convincing Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

Solana will present Iranian leaders with a "refreshed" offer on behalf of the six major powers involved in the nuclear talks -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- who came up with the deal last month to follow an original offer in June 2006.

Solana declined to give details: "We will have several meetings in Tehran with various people and we will see. I am not going to speak now about the contents."

The European Union and the United States will call on the UN secretary general to send a team to Zimbabwe to monitor human rights ahead of a presidential run-off election this month, according to the draft statement.

"We urge the UN Secretary General to send a team immediately to monitor human rights and to deter further abuses," said the text, prepared for the summit between Bush and EU leaders.

The statement also called for the June 27 run-off to be "free and fair." Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will be hoping to end President Robert Mugabe's 28-year rule.

Bush and his European hosts, including EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, will also discuss climate change and energy security.

Washington believes that climate change can only be effectively tackled if major emerging economies like China and India make commitments, while the Europeans favour leading the way on the issue to encourage others.

© 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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