WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush said on Friday that Iran is trying to use the United States' refusal to join European talks over Tehran's nuclear program as an excuse for not giving up uranium enrichment.
He stressed that the United States preferred diplomacy and did not want to use military action against Iran over the nuclear question.
"What they're trying to do is kind of wiggle out. They're trying to say, 'Well, we won't do anything because America is not involved.' Well, America is involved. We're in close consultation with our friends," Bush said.
He was speaking to Germany's ARD television, one of a series of interviews he gave on Friday preparing for his trip to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia next week.
The European Union, represented by France, Britain and Germany, has been trying to persuade Iran to scrap any nuclear weapons-related activities in return for economic incentives.
The United States has rejected European calls for the Bush administration to bolster the EU's leverage by getting involved in the bargaining and offering incentives of its own for Iran to end uranium enrichment activities.
Washington wants Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions -- which Tehran denies having -- and comply with International Atomic Energy Agency obligations, stop support for terrorism and allow democratic reforms.
In the ARD interview, Bush insisted that he wants a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the problem and said any talk of a military attack is "just not the truth."
"We want diplomacy to work, and I believe diplomacy can work so long as the Iranians don't divide Europe and the United States. And the common goal is for them not to have a nuclear weapon," Bush told Belgium's VRT television channel.
NEVER SAY NEVER
"First of all you never want a president to say never, but military action is certainly not, is never the president's first choice," Bush said, when asked if he could rule out military action against Iran.
"Diplomacy is always the president's, or at least always my first choice and we've got a common goal, and that is that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon," he said in the interview taped in Washington and broadcast before his arrival in Brussels on Sunday for summits with NATO and the EU.
Bush suggested there was no divergence between the policy of Washington and Europe on Iran and said they could succeed together in ensuring that Iran did not develop an atom bomb.
"We've got a common goal and that is that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon ... I think if we continue to speak with one voice and not let them split us up and keep the pressure on, we can achieve the objective," he said.
"I'm convinced again that if the Iranians hear us loud and clear and without any wavering, that they will make the rational decision," Bush said in an interview with France 3 television.
Israel said on Wednesday that Iran was just six months away from having the knowledge to build nuclear weapons.
European leaders are hoping to convince Bush to take a bigger role in the negotiations with Iran. Former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, the European Commission's ambassador to the United States, said this week the leaders' goal is "getting the United States involved in a more committed way" in their talks with Iran.
Bush is expected to use his trip to try to soothe ruffled feathers after a first term in which he has been criticized in Europe for riding rough-shod over the views of European leaders, particularly France's President Jacques Chirac.
"I look forward to working with President Chirac. We had our differences. And now is the time to set those aside and focus on peace in the Middle East..." Bush said.
Bush told France 3 that he wanted to "work with the French to continue to help with the Middle Eastern peace process."
(Additional reporting by Mark John, Brussels)