On Tuesday, George W. Bush said the idea that the U.S. is planning to attack Iran is "simply ridiculous" -- but then added that "all options are on the table."  --  The uncomfortable conclusion that one can draw from this is that ridiculous options are on the table....


Bush Administration

By Michael A. Fletcher and Keith B. Richburg

** Notion of U.S. Attack 'Is Simply Ridiculous' **

Washington Post
February 23, 2005
Page A01


BRUSSELS -- President Bush said Tuesday that concern about possible U.S. military action against Iran "is simply ridiculous," but he added at a news conference that "all options are on the table" in dealing with suspected Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.

After meeting with NATO and European Union officials, Bush welcomed modest pledges from opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to help train and equip security forces there. While U.S. and European officials said there was an improved tone in their discussions, serious divisions remained over U.S. policy toward Iran and the Bush administration's objection to European plans to lift an arms embargo against China.

U.S. charges that Iran wants to build nuclear weapons have raised concern in Europe about U.S. military planning. Bush has repeatedly said he wants diplomacy with Tehran's theocratic government to work.

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," Bush said. "And having said that, all options are on the table."

He said he was "getting good advice from European partners," who agreed with the United States that "it's in our interests for them not to have a nuclear weapon."

European nations would like the United States to join talks with Iran -- now involving Germany, France and Britain -- by offering Tehran security and economic guarantees in exchange for abandoning its nuclear ambitions. The Bush administration has refused to participate in the talks. The Iranian government has said its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes.

On China, Bush said he was deeply concerned that an E.U. proposal to lift a 15-year ban on arms sales would "change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan." European officials dispute that, saying they could build in safeguards to allay U.S. concerns.

Despite his reservations, Bush said he would consider European views on the issue. "They think they can develop a protocol that . . . shouldn't concern the United States," Bush said. "And I said I'm looking forward to seeing it." P> Bush focused on cooperation and said that new pledges of support on Iraq meant all 26 NATO nations had agreed to help train Iraqi security forces, a development hailed by U.S. and European officials as evidence that they had put aside their deep disagreements over the invasion and occupation.

"Twenty-six nations sitting around that table said it's important for NATO to be involved in Iraq," Bush said. "That's a strong statement."

Besides the United States, 15 NATO nations have at least small troop contingents in Iraq, while the others have committed to providing money or expertise to help train Iraqi security forces inside or outside the country.

France on Tuesday became the final NATO member to commit to the training effort, following recent commitments by Germany, Greece and Belgium. France pledged one military officer to help in coordination at NATO headquarters and agreed to train 1,500 Iraqi military police officers outside Iraq.

"We're very pleased that we have not only unity in theory, but, on the question of Iraq, for the first time in three years we now have unity of purpose," said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The NATO commitment is much smaller than the Bush administration had originally hoped. Last year, the United States proposed that NATO take charge of an entire sector of Iraq, now overseen by Poland. But members of the alliance roundly rejected that idea.

Several European policy analysts said they believed Bush's trip was going far toward mending the transatlantic rift that developed during his first term -- with disputes rising over the Kyoto climate change treaty and the International Criminal Court, as well as Iraq.

They took note that Bush spent three nights here in the city considered the capital of Europe and ventured into the heart of Europe's burgeoning new bureaucracy, the towering European Commission building.

"I was very impressed," said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research group that favors strong links to North America. "Of course it's only words -- but in diplomacy, words set the tone."

The visit "does imply that Bush 2 is very different than Bush 1," Grant added. "If he can at least go through the motions of taking the European Union seriously, because the expectations are so low I think they will certainly forgive him for being the Big Bad Bush of the first term."

Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Center on the United States, said in a telephone interview in Paris that the Bush trip was "atmospherics -- but that was the aim. The aim was to change the atmosphere, and to that extent, he's succeeded. I don't know if he's changed any minds."

Still, an underlying schism is emerging between the United States and some of the countries -- particularly France and Germany -- that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld famously labeled "Old Europe."

Specifically, those countries and others would like to see the E.U. become the main institutional link between the United States and Europe, so they were delighted at Bush's visit to E.U. headquarters. But the United States remains committed to seeing NATO as its primary connection to the continent -- and Bush pointedly spent more time at NATO headquarters, where he lunched with alliance leaders and held a mini-summit with the new Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko.

Bush is spending much of his time on this trip meeting with some of the most vocal critics of the Iraq war. He met with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and dined with French President Jacques Chirac. He is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and, before returning home Thursday, he is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia.

"The major issue that irritated a lot of Europeans was Iraq," Bush said at a news conference. "I understand that. I can figure it out. And the key now is to put that behind us and to focus on helping a new democracy succeed."

Earlier Tuesday, Bush held a working breakfast with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Afterward, Blair said it was possible to see a future in which Iraq would become a stable and prosperous democratic state.

"Whatever the differences in the international community have been over the past couple of years, I think we have a really solid basis now for going forward in a unified way," Blair said.