Ahead of a major Middle East tour, President Bush said he would tell Israeli and Arab leaders that isolating Iran is still a priority.
Bush leaves Tuesday for an eight-day tour that will encompass Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. His primary focus is encouraging revived Israeli-Palestinian peace, but in a series of interviews with both Arab and Israeli journalists he emphasized the issue that unites every nation he will visit: containing Iran’s suspected ambitions of hegemony and of building nuclear weapons.
“I’ll explain the strategy of economic isolation, that – you know, it’s sad, we really don’t need to have to be in this position,” Bush told Al Arabiya TV. “If the Iranian government would suspend their enrichment program, like the international community has demanded, there’s a better way forward for them.”
Bush acknowledged that his job would be made harder by the collective assessment published last month by U.S. intelligence agencies reporting that Iran had shut down a nuclear weapons program in 2003. Israel and Persian Gulf states are concerned that this signals a rolling back of U.S. commitment to isolating Iran.
“The fact that I’m having to explain it means it’s harder after the report,” Bush told Al Arabiya, speaking of the National Intelligence Estimate. “But I believe I’ll be able to convince them.” He said he would emphasize the report’s findings that Iran is still enriching uranium, a precursor to weapons making.
Bush told Yediot Achronot, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper, that he was emphasizing diplomacy and would not be drawn into discussions of a military option for now.
“My message to all in the region is I believe we can solve this diplomatically, and that pressure must work,” he said.