Bush Backs Putin's Iran Uranium Plan
BUSAN, South Korea -- At a meeting of Pacific
Rim leaders on Friday, U.S. President George W. Bush told President
Vladimir Putin that the United States supported a proposal from
Moscow that could deny Iran the ability to produce nuclear weapons.
"It may provide a way out," U.S.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said of the Russian
plan, which was discussed during a meeting between Bush and
Putin that lasted more than an hour on the sidelines of the
annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Putin and Bush were among 21 leaders, including
China's Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi,
who ended the summit with an indirect challenge to European
countries to help revive global free-trade negotiations by cutting
their hefty farm subsidies.
The leaders also addressed the threat of a
possible bird flu pandemic, pledging to be open about disclosing
outbreaks, boost surveillance and build a register of experts
that can advise countries on combating the disease.
During their discussion on a variety of difficult
topics, Bush praised Putin for several steps Russia had taken
that "would reduce the proliferation risks" in Iran,
and he expressed support for a Russian plan that would allow
Iran to convert uranium but would move the enrichment process
to a facility to be built for Iran in Russia, Hadley said.
Glossing over differences straining their political
relationship, Bush and Putin greeted each other warmly Friday,
and emphasized cooperation in the war on terror and the campaign
to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"The dynamic in the room was very positive,
very loose ... there was a lot of laughing, a lot of joking,"
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said.
"Hey Vladimir. How are you? Looking good,"
Bush said as the two leaders began their meeting. "I always
enjoy a chance to have a good discussion with you. You're right.
We've got a very important relationship. We value your advice."
Bush asked Putin if he wanted to address reporters.
Putin said he did not. Bush shrugged and said, "OK, me
neither." The two leaders then retreated to seats out of
earshot from reporters.
Bush said Russia was a positive force in international
negotiations to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear
program, Bartlett said. They did not discuss Bush's eagerness
to go to the UN Security Council with suspicions that Iran is
trying to build a nuclear arsenal, he said.
The two leaders focused on their joint position
that Iran should not be allowed to use its nuclear program to
make weapons. Bartlett said the United States supported Moscow's
plan, which would allow Iran to covert uranium into a gas that
is the precursor to making enriched uranium. But the enrichment
itself would be done in Russia.
In theory, that would deny Iran the capacity
to produce weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons.
Though Iran has "not surprisingly"
so far rejected the idea, Hadley said, "We think that doesn't
end it. This will be an issue we will return to."
The United States has expressed concerns that
Moscow is retreating from democracy, but Bartlett indicated
the leaders did not dwell on that issue. "Our position
is well known on that," he said, saying the focus was on
issues such as trade and Iran and the Middle East.