Paris — Iran rejected a six-nation offer of incentives to stop enriching uranium on Saturday, prompting President Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to jointly warn Tehran anew against proceeding toward a nuclear bomb.
"Our allies understand that a nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilizing, and they understand that it would be a major blow to world peace," Bush said at a news conference with Sarkozy at Elysee Palace.
The quickly unfolding series of events began in Tehran, where European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana played the role of messenger for the offer from the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China.
Solana presented the plan - a refreshed version of a 2006 package that Iran ignored - to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and its top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. There were no plans for Solana to see Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Even before Solana's meetings, however, Iran gave its pre-emptive judgment of the deal that holds out the promise of economic, technological, educational and political rewards: dead on arrival, assuming the offer is conditioned on Iran halting its uranium enrichment, which it is.
"If suspension is included in the package, it won't be considered at all," the official IRNA news agency quoted Iran's government spokesman, Gholam Hossein Elham, as saying Saturday. "The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran is clear. Preconditions can't be raised for any halt or suspension."
Bush and Sarkozy were informed of this as as they went into morning meetings. Their session capped warm talks that began over an elegant palace dinner Friday night. When the U.S. and French leaders appeared together before reporters in a grand palace hall around lunchtime, they presented a single front - contrasting with the tension shown between Bush and Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy's predecessor.
"I'm disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand," Bush told reporters.
Said Sarkozy: "As far as military nuclear access is concerned, this is 'no' on the part of the international community."
Bush said the issue has been dominating his discussions this week with leaders as he travels through Europe. With his time in office ticking down and it widely presumed that Iran could have enough fissile material for a weapon within a few years, Bush has been hoping to inject new urgency into the extremely slow-moving diplomatic process. Iran claims its enrichment is to generate nuclear energy, while the West believes it is designed as part of a now-dormant warhead program that could easily be restarted.