- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

CAMP DAVID, Maryland — President Bush today said that Iran’s detention of 15 British sailors for nine days is “inexcusable behavior,” and called on Iran to release them immediately.

“The Iranians must give back the hostages. They’re innocent,” Mr. Bush said during a joint press conference with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at Mr. Bush’s presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains.

“I strongly support the Blair government’s attempts to resolve this peacefully, and I support the prime minister when he said there were no quid pro quos,” Mr. Bush said, avoiding a question on whether Britain would be justified in using military force to retrieve the prisoners.

The sailors were captured by Iranian forces on March 23, and the Iranian government has insisted that the sailors were in Iranian waters.

The British government has been equally insistent that the sailors were carrying out legitimate anti-smuggling operations in Iraqi waters.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today repeated his government’s claim that the British sailors had crossed into Iranian waters and called the British government “arrogant” for refusing to apologize.

Earlier today, Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, retracted comments in which he said the British sailors may be put on trial.

Mr. Ansari said his comments had been mistranslated, IRNA, the Iranian news agency reported.

Mr. Lula da Silva is is the first Latin American leader to visit Camp David during Mr. Bush’s six years in office.

While talks between the U.S. and Brazilian governments during an afternoon meeting centered on world trade and Brazil’s desire to export ethanol for bio-fuels to the U.S., Iran cropped up as a point of tension between the two leaders.

Brazil’s government-controlled oil group, Petrobras, has in recent weeks increased cooperation with Iran’s oil company, NIDC, on drilling for oil in the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf. The U.S. government was reported yesterday to have communicated concern about this arrangement.

When asked whether Brazil might step back from doing business with Iran, Mr. Lula da Silva firmly rejected the idea.

“Iran has been an important trade partner for Brazil,” Mr. Lula da Silva said. “We have no political divergence with them so we will continue to work together with Iran.”

Mr. Bush, who has led calls for Iran to stop pursuit of a nuclear weapon, was clearly not pleased.

“Brazil is a sovereign nation. They just articulated a sovereign decision,” Mr. Bush said. “We would hope that nations would be very careful in dealing with Iran, particularly since Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and a major threat to world peace is if the Iranians had a nuclear weapon.”

“That is why there are sanctions imposed by the United Nations, as a result of collaboration by the United States, the EU, China and Russia,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush also reiterated his support for embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who faces continued calls for his resignation from Democrats and a handful of Republicans over the firing of eight federal prosecutors last year.

“Attorney General Gonzales is an honorable and honest man. He has my full confidence,” Mr. Bush said. “He will testify in front of Congress and he will tell the truth.”

No substantive agreements were reached on the Doha round of trade talks, but both leaders reiterated their commitment to finding a middle ground in the talks, which involve several other countries, including the European Union.

“The United States has a genuine desire to succeed,” Mr. Bush said.

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