US firm on Iran nuclear issue

“The message hasn’t changed,” Mr Bush said in talks with visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder after Iranian hardliner Mahmood Ahmadinejad won the Islamic republic’s presidency in a shock landslide victory.

“We continue working with Great Britain, France and Germany to send a focussed, concerted, unified message that says the development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable, and a process which would enable Iran to develop a nuclear weapon is unacceptable,” the president said.

The European powers and the Bush administration have been trying to convince Iran to abandon such activities altogether in return for a package of economic and security incentives.

“I couldn’t agree more with his message,” Mr Schroeder said. “We’re going to continue being tough and firm on all of that. The message must stay very crystal clear, and it is.”

The US president also cast doubt on Mr Ahmadinejad’s election, saying: “It’s never free and fair when a group of people, unelected people, gets to decide who’s on the ballot.”

Mr Bush, who in 2002 labelled Iran part of an “axis of evil” with North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, was referring to the tough vetting process that sidelined more than 1,000 candidates.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday said Mr Ahmadinejad was “no friend of democracy (and) no friend of freedom”.

Washington accuses Tehran of using a civilian atomic energy program to seek nuclear weapons and seeks a permanent halt to uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

Iran denies the charge and says its nuclear program is peaceful and
designed to generate electricity and that it’s cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran has sought to ease international fears that Mr Ahmadinejad’s victory spells the end of talks.

“The wider principles of our foreign policy will not change,” said Ali Agha Mohammadi, a spokesman for Iran’s security body that is handling the negotiations.

The next round of talks is expected for late July.