Iran Focus: London, Sep. 22 – In an exclusive interview with CNN, United States President George W. Bush outlined his administration’s position over Iran’s nuclear program and the threats by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to destroy Israel. Iran Focus
London, Sep. 22 – In an exclusive interview with CNN, United States President George W. Bush outlined his administration’s position over Iran’s nuclear program and the threats by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to destroy Israel.
The interview aired on September 20. The following are excerpts of the interview:
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You’re here in New York. The president of Iran is here in New York. You have a chance — I don’t know if you still have a chance, but you had a chance to meet with him. Given the stakes involved — a nuclear confrontation — what do you have to lose by sitting down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our position is very clear to the Iranians, that if they want to sit down with American officials, that they first must verifiably suspend their enrichment program. They know our position, the world knows our position, and I clarified it at the United Nations over the past couple of days.
BLITZER: But if it would help — if it would help to sit down, talk to them and try to convince them. You know, there have been other moments where great leaders have made that major decision, have a breakthrough — Nixon going to China, Sadat going to Jerusalem. What would be wrong to just sit down with them and tell them, you know what, here are the options before you?
BUSH: Yes, well, he knows the options before him. I’ve made that very clear. Secondly, Wolf, in order for there to be effective diplomacy, you can’t keep changing your word. At an important moment in these negotiations with the EU3 and Iran, we made it clear we would come to the table, but we would come to the table only if they verifiably suspended their enrichment program.
And the reason that’s important, that they verifiably suspend, is because we don’t want them to have the technologies necessary to be able to build a nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran in the middle of the Middle East would be a very destabilizing and troubling occurrence.
BLITZER: India and Pakistan already have a nuclear weapon. Israel has a nuclear weapon. Why would it be so bad if this Iranian regime had a nuclear weapon?
BUSH: This Iranian regime is — promotes militias like Hezbollah to create instability. This Iranian regime has made it abundantly clear that they would like to destroy Israel, who is our ally.
BLITZER: Do you think they would drop a bomb or launch a missile on Israel?
BUSH: Wolf, my judgment is you’ve got to take everybody’s word seriously in this world. Again, you can’t just hope for the best. You’ve got to assume that the leader, when he says that he would like to destroy Israel means what he says. If you take — if you say, well, gosh, maybe he doesn’t mean it, and you turn out to be wrong, you have not done your duty as a world leader.
BLITZER: So you take him seriously at that?
BUSH: Absolutely I take him seriously, just like I take al Qaeda seriously when they say they’re going to attack us again, just like I take these extremists seriously when they say they’re trying to disrupt democracy.
BLITZER: George Voinovich, the Republican senator from Ohio, has compared him to Hitler.
BUSH: Yes, you know, I mean, people have got strong opinions about him, and I can understand why. He’s a — look, Olmert — Prime Minister Olmert of Israel reaches out to President Abbas of the Palestinian territories to try to help establish a democracy, and there’s an unprovoked attack by Hezbollah on Israel.
Hezbollah’s funded and armed by Iran. Iran wants to stop the advance of democracy and peace, and I can understand why people have strong opinions about the Iranian regime. Our goal is to have a diplomatic solution, starting with convincing the Iranians that they either face isolation and possible sanctions if they don’t give up their weapons programs.
BLITZER: The foreign minister of Israel told me the other day that they believe the Israelis — there’s only a few months left, a few months of a window, before they get to a point where there’s literally a point of no return and they’ve learned how to enrich uranium and effectively could go forward and build a bomb. How much time does the world have to resolve this?
BUSH: First, if I were the Israeli foreign minister, I’d be deeply concerned about somebody in my neighborhood whose stated objective was the destruction of my country, and the desire of that country to end up with the capacity to do so. And so I can understand her concerns. I’m not going to discuss with you our intelligence on the subject, but time is of the essence.
BLITZER: Is it a few months though?
BUSH: Well, time is of the essence, and that’s why here at the United Nations I spoke with our allies. Condi Rice met last night with foreign ministers of the EU3 and Russia, and I think China was there as well, urging them to follow through on the resolution we got passed at the United Nations Security Council. I’m concerned that Iran is trying to stall, and to try to buy time, and therefore it seems like a smart policy is to push this issue along as hard as we can and we are.
BLITZER: Because a lot of experts say short of regime change in Iran, or military action, there’s no way this leader in Tehran is going to give up that nuclear ambition.
BUSH: We’ll find out. The country can face isolation. They could face, you know, sanctions, or they can choose a better course. The choice is the Iranian leader’s choice. I spoke yesterday at the U.N. and I spoke directly to the Iranian people.
It’s important for the Iranian people to know this, that we respect their heritage, we respect their history, we respect their tradition. We believe this can be a great nation if the government, you know, relies upon the talents of its people and encourages and nurtures those talents.
BLITZER: Is there anything you heard from him in his address last night or your analysts that was encouraging?
BUSH: Not really.