US President George W Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday jointly urged Syria to break with Iran and said that they would not let Tehran obtain nuclear weapons.
‘Iran getting a nuclear bomb is unacceptable, that’s clear. It’s an unacceptable threat,’ Sarkozy said, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush at a press conference after talks in Paris.
‘A nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilising,’ Bush said hours after Tehran rejected new world demands to halt uranium enrichment in return for economic and diplomatic rewards.
Bush and Sarkozy played down differences over France’s newly warm outreach to Syria.
The French president, who has invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend France’s national ‘Bastille Day’ celebrations next month, defended his decision on Saturday, saying that he had promised to restore high-level ties with Syria if the Lebanese presidential election ran its course. Michel Sleiman was elected Lebanese president last month.
The US president had a blunt message for Damascus: ‘Stop fooling around with the Iranians.’
Sarkozy underlined that Damascus must guarantee neighbour Lebanon’s independence.
The French president said he wanted ‘that Syria break as much as possible with Iran in its quest to develop a nuclear weapon’ in order to pursue improved diplomatic relations with Paris.
A joint statement following talks in Paris between Bush and Sarkozy called on the two countries to ‘quickly establish full diplomatic relations’ based on ‘respect, equality, security and sovereignty’.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this month said Damascus was ready to open an embassy in Lebanon once a unity government is formed and develops good relations with Syria.
‘It is obvious that if there is a unity government that represents all Lebanese factions, we will have good relations with it,’ he said. ‘When these circumstances are in place, we will hopefully soon exchange embassies with Lebanon,’ Assad was quoted as saying to Kuwaiti newspapers.
The US president said efforts to rally Europe to his hard line on Iran – chiefly new sanctions in the face of such a rejection – had ‘dominated’ his week-long Europe trip, his last one before leaving office in January.
‘I am disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand,’ Bush said.
A tough sanctions regime is ‘the only solution for convincing the Iranians,’ said Sarkozy.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Saturday presented a new offer to Iran on ending the six-year standoff over its nuclear drive but Tehran once again rejected the proposal’s key demand to halt nuclear enrichment.
‘Iran’s stance is clear. The precondition of a halt and suspension of nuclear activities cannot be brought up,’ Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said in Tehran.
Bush said that the US demands that Iran – which says its programme has peaceful aims – freeze nuclear enrichment were ‘just and fair’.
That drew no argument from Sarkozy, who said Europe was prepared to help Iran with a civilian nuclear programme but stressed that ‘for a nuclear weapons programme, the response will be sanctions and a united international community.’
Bush, who called his host ‘Nicolas’, also expressed confidence that Baghdad and Washington would successfully reach a deal on the rules for US forces in Iraq after the UN mandate for the occupation ends late this year.
‘If I were a betting man – we’ll reach an agreement with the Iraqis,’ he said, after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned that talks had stalled over Baghdad’s worries about its sovereignty.
‘Of course, we’re there at their invitation. It’s a sovereign nation and therefore we’re working hard with the elected government of Iraq,’ said Bush.
‘We’re going to work hard to accommodate their desires. It’s their country.’
The US president denied that the accord would tie his successor’s hands on troop levels or that it would establish permanent US bases. The White House has previously said that 60-year-old US facilities in Japan are not ‘permanent’.
l Inflation in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, where the consumer prices index has sharply increased over the past few years, hit 10.9 per cent in 2007, an official study said on Saturday.
Consumer prices in Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of seven emirates forming the UAE, increased by 11.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2008 from 10.7 per cent a year earlier, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Planning and Economy said.
The study blamed the increase in UAE and Abu Dhabi inflation mainly on the surging cost of house rentals, the official news agency WAM said.
It slammed a UAE central bank policy of copying decisions taken by the US Federal Reserve reducing interest rates instead of tightening the monetary policy in the robust UAE economy. The dirham is pegged to the dollar.
‘It is unreasonable that local interest rates would increase or decrease for external reasons, most importantly the policies of the US Federal Reserve, when the indices of the UAE economy imply that the opposite is needed,’ WAM quoted the study as saying.
The last official inflation figures provided by the ministry of economy pertain to 2006 putting it at 9.3 per cent.
Inflation figures for 2005 were not provided, but the International Monetary Fund put it at 7.8 per cent.
The UAE sits on 97.8 billion barrels of oil reserves, which are ranked as the fifth largest in the world. Its economy is estimated to have grown by 7.4 per cent in 2007, according to the IMF.