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Bush Says Notion of Attack on Iran 'Ridiculous'

President Bush says the idea that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is, in his words, "ridiculous".  But he says he will not rule out any options. 

Meeting reporters after the 90-minute summit, Mr. Bush said the United States and Europe share a common objective regarding Iran, and that is that the Islamic Republic should not have a nuclear weapon.

Britain, France and Germany have offered technological, political and economic aid to Iran if it scraps its program to enrich uranium.  The United States has reservations about the European strategy, but Mr. Bush has indicated that he is prepared to wait and see what it accomplishes.

When asked whether the United States was contemplating attacking Iran, he replied forcefully.

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous.  Having said that, all options are on the table," he said.

In the past, Mr. Bush has said that an American president can never rule out the use of military force, adding that it is always the last option.

The Europeans have asked Mr. Bush to back their negotiations with Iran by offering the country security guarantees.  But Mr. Bush has refused to do so, insisting instead that Iran must abandon its uranium enrichment program first.

Earlier, during his visit to NATO headquarters, Mr. Bush addressed another issue that divides the EU from the United States.  The EU has said that it is ready to lift its arms embargo on China, a move Washington fears will alter the strategic balance in Asia.

"There is deep concern in our country that a transfer of weapons would be a transfer of technology to China, which would change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan, and that's of concern," added Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush says the EU leaders have assured him that they will try to find ways of accommodating U.S. objections.  But he stressed that the Europeans must convince the U.S. Congress, where there is strong support for curbing U.S. sales of advanced military technology to Europe, once the EU arms ban on China is lifted.

Seeking to put U.S.-European differences over the Iraq War behind them, both sides announced that they would be willing to host a conference aimed at rallying international support to rebuild Iraq.  Earlier Tuesday, all of NATO's 26 nations offered symbolic support for a modest NATO training program for Iraqi staff officers.

Mr. Bush's trip to Brussels and his willingness to listen to the Europeans was appreciated by his hosts.  As European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso put it, Mr. Bush's visit has given new life to the partnership between Europe and the United States.

"I believe that transatlantic relations have turned a corner,” Noted Mr. Barroso.  “A new listening partnership is emerging.  The challenge now is to turn this new spirit into reality and show the world we are able to translate it into concrete results."

Despite the careful choreography, the new tone and the desire on both sides to turn the page, some European officials are still wondering if Mr. Bush means what he says.  They are uncertain if he is inviting them to take part in an agenda pre-determined by the United States or help the United States shape the agenda.

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