Bush to keep up pressure on Iran in Europe

Iran Materials 20 June 2006 11:18 (UTC +04:00)

(Reuters) - President Bush heads to Europe on Tuesday to keep pressure on Iran over its nuclear program even as North Korea threatens to divert his attention by preparing for a long-range missile launch.

Buoyed by a wave of good news after months of grim headlines that damaged him politically, Bush goes to Vienna for an annual U.S.- European Union summit and then to Budapest to mark the 50th anniversary of Hungary's uprising against Soviet rule, reports Trend.

On his 15th trip to Europe since taking office in 2001, Bush will be gone from Washington less than 63 hours, returning home late on Thursday.

In Vienna, he plans to stress that the United States and Europe must stand firm in pressing Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program in order to qualify for an incentives package aimed at containing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

A U.S.-backed package of incentives was offered to Iran early this month, and the United States has said it will join European talks with Iran if it agrees to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

Bush believes Iran wants to develop a nuclear weapon while Iran says it is only working on a nuclear power program.

"If Iran's leaders reject our offer, it will result in action before the Security Council, further isolation from the world and progressively stronger political and
economic sanctions," Bush said on Monday.

Bush's drive for sanctions is opposed by U.N. Security Council members China and Russia. The White House said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on the need to work together on the issue in a telephone call on Monday.

Bush's task at the summit in Austria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, is to secure European support for sanctions if Iran refuses to suspend enrichment.


North Korea's apparent preparation for a test launch of a missile capable of reaching the United States has given the president a new challenge.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is accompanying Bush on the trip, said a North Korean missile test would be a provocative act that Washington would take seriously.

Bush is likely to face more European pressure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects after the military announced on June 10 that three detainees had committed suicide.

Bush has fended off calls from allies and rights advocates to close the prison by saying he is waiting for a U.S. Supreme Court decision about the forum for handling detainee cases, which is due by the end of June.

Bush's trip follows a series of positive developments that have boosted his low popularity over the past six weeks or so, capped by the U.S. military's killing of al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, last week.

This has given Republicans hope his approval rating will improve enough to help them retain control of the U.S. Congress in November elections.