On Iran, Bush and Brown put all options on the table

Meeting in London, US President George W. Bush and British PM Gordon Brown said Iran has a choice: to increase cooperation regarding its nuclear weapons programme or face threats of further isolation. (Story: B. Fenwick and C Moore)


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday announced new troops for Afghanistan and tougher sanctions on Iran, delighting visiting US President George W. Bush.

Bush reiterated that "all options" remain on the table against Iran, although stressing he would prefer a diplomatic solution to the West's standoff with Tehran over its suspect nuclear weapons programme.

"Now's the time to work together to get it done," Bush said after meeting  Brown on the last day of a European tour, while adding: "All options are on the table, however."

Brown added that Europe was to agree new sanctions against Iran, including freezing assets of the country's biggest bank, after weekend talks by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Tehran.

"Today Britain will urge Europe, and Europe will agree to take further sanctions against Iran," Brown said, apparently referring to EU ministerial talks taking place in Luxembourg.

"We will take action today that will freeze the overseas assets of the biggest bank in Iran, the Melli Bank, and secondly action will start today for a new phase of sanctions on oil and gas," he added.

On Afghanistan Brown announced that Britain will send extra troops to the still violence-wracked country, where US, British and other troops are still battling a fierce Taliban insurgency seven years after the country's invasion.

"Eighteen months ago, the Taliban boasted that they and their paid foreign fighters would drive our forces out of southern Helmand (province). Now most agree that security is on the way to being transformed," he said.

"Today, Britain will announce additional troops for Afghanistan, bringing our numbers in Afghanistan to the highest level."

The announcement comes as the body of the 100th British soldier to die in Afghanistan -- seen by both Washington and London as a key frontline against global terrorism -- since operations began in 2001 was being repatriated.

Bush also urged Afghanistan and Pakistan to expand dialogue on how to confront militants who operate along their shared border.

"There needs to be better cooperation," Bush said, adding: "There can be more dialogue between the Pak (eds: correct) government and the Afghan government."

On Iran, Brown noted that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had had a latest round of talks with Tehran over the weekend. "We await the Iranian response and will do everything possible to maintain the dialogue," he said.

"We will take any necessary action so that Iran is aware of the choice it has to make to start to play its part as a full and respected member of the international community or face further isolation."

The US president, who arrived in London on Sunday, also held talks Monday with his old friend Tony Blair -- now international Middle East envoy -- and was to visit Belfast later for talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

Brown was to accompany Bush to Belfast where, joined also by Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, they were to meet with Northern Ireland's new First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness.

According to Cowen's office in Dublin, the meetings will focus on recent progress in the British province, review outstanding political issues, and analyse how best to build on the recent international investment conference there.

In the protests on Sunday, 10 police officers were injured and 25 demonstrators arrested, police said, after protesters tried to breach police lines sealing off Whitehall, yards from where Bush and Brown were meeting.

On Monday three people were charged with offences during the demos -- two young men charged with obstructing police, and a 60-year-old woman accused of indecent exposure.


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