Obama urges Iran to accept nuke proposal

July 25, 2008 6:14:27 PM PDT
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, nearing the end of a fast-paced international campaign trip, warned Iran on Friday, "don't wait for the next president" to take office before yielding to Western demands to dismantle its nuclear weapons program."The pressure, I think, is only going to build," he said at a news conference as he stood beside French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Obama spent less than five hours in the French capital, time enough for his motorcade to drive past curious Parisians gathered along the sidewalks hoping to catch a glimpse, receive a greeting from his host on the steps of the presidential palace and then hold private talks before a news conference.

The French president veered close to an endorsement to a man he called "my dear Barack Obama."

Sarkozy recalled that when they first met in 2006 neither was president.

"And one of us became president. Well, let the other do likewise, huh? I mean, that's not meddling" in the U.S. election, Sarkozy said.

For his part, Obama observed that when Sarkozy visited the United States two years ago, he met with only two senators - himself and John McCain, now the Republican presidential candidate-in-waiting. "So I would suggest that, for the reporters in the room, if you want to know something about elections, you should talk to the president of France."

Obama said he and Sarkozy agreed that Iran poses "an extraordinarily grave situation," and the world must send "a clear message to Iran to end its illicit nuclear program."

Obama has spoken frequently of Iran on his trip, stressing that its nuclear ambitions pose a threat to Israel's existence and threatens to destabilize the entire region. While the United States and other Western nations accuse Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, Tehran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Obama disclosed that earlier in his trip, he had found Israelis curious about a possible shift in Syria's foreign policy, "that if, in fact, Syrian President Bashar Assad was serious about dealing with their support of Hamas or their support of Hezbollah, that that could be a game-changer."

Obama said, "I think that's an area worth exploring and having leaders like President Sarkozy help - helping to move that along, I think has enormous potential."

Israel has been in indirect discussions with Syria in recent weeks, though little is known of their content.

Obama told reporters that "Afghanistan is a war we have to win." The Taliban and terrorist groups it supports, he said, pose an unacceptable threat to the U.S., France and other nations.

"We've got to finish the job," said Obama, who often has said the Iraq war was an unwise move that distracted the United States from efforts to find Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders and to root out the Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Sarkozy said he agreed that the Taliban must be defeated in Afghanistan, where French troops are part of a multinational force.

Obama is on an election-season trip, financed by his campaign, that ends on Saturday with talks with British officials. Part of his goal for the trip through the Mideast and Europe has been to allow him to make his debut on an international stage in the hopes of reassuring skeptical voters in the United States about his readiness for the presidency.

His mere presence at a joint news conference with Sarkozy provided images, at least, to achieve his goal. And while the senator reminded his audience there is only one president, he also spoke as though he was representing the country he hopes to lead.

"I obviously am very appreciative of President Sarkozy's long-standing commitment to strengthen the bilateral relationship between France and the United States and enhance trans-Atlantic relations as a whole," Obama said.

"He has been a great leader on this, and the American people greatly appreciate President Sarkozy's approach to the relationship between our two countries," he said.

Sarkozy and Obama met for more than hour, including 20 minutes of one-on-one talks, according to an aide to the French president.

Upon arriving at the Elysee Palace, Obama greeted a crowd of reporters with a simple, "Bonjour!"