President Bush says he thinks diplomacy is the first and most important option in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mr. Bush was asked about the dispute during a trip to the state of Florida.
The focus of the trip was supposed to be health care for the elderly. But when senior citizens got a chance to ask questions, they asked about Iran.
The president told them the goal is to prevent Iran from using its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. He said in the case of Iraq, diplomacy failed to bring Saddam Hussein in compliance with international demands. But he said this time, diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute may succeed.
"The first choice and a choice that I think will work with the Iranians is diplomacy," Mr. Bush says. "And I believe we can accomplish this through diplomacy."
He made the remarks at a time when members of the United Nations Security Council are struggling to find the best way to put pressure on Iran, with China and Russia resisting calls for economic sanctions.
The president said he would not negotiate in public, and would let the diplomats do their work in private. But he made clear, while there are differences in strategy, they all agree the overall aim is to prevent Iran from getting nuclear arms.
"The first step toward good diplomacy is to have different countries agree on a common goal, which is that the Iranians should not have the capacity and-or nuclear weapons," Mr. Bush says.
Mr. Bush said through hard work, the countries dealing with the Iran nuclear issue will remain bound together. He said they all recognize the danger inherent in a nuclear-armed Iran. He said they understand the consequences, and added Tehran must understand the consequences of its continued defiance.
"It's very important for the Iranians to know they will be isolated in the world," Mr. Bush says. "The rest of the world, much of the world, shares the same demands that those of us involved in negotiations say."
The president made no mention of the letter, relayed to him Monday by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The 18-page letter has many criticisms of the Bush administration, but does not refer directly to the impasse over Iran's nuclear ambitions. It was quickly rejected by Bush administration officials, and the White House has made clear Iran should not expect a formal written reply.