By JENNIFER LOVEN
CARTAGENA, Colombia - President Bush said Monday that he hopes Iran's claim that it has suspended uranium enrichment and has no nuclear weapons ambitions is true, but "there must be verification."
Iran must "earn the trust of those of us who are worried about them developing a nuclear weapon," Bush said at a seaside news conference during a four-hour visit with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Earlier Monday, Iran announced it has suspended uranium enrichment. The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said he believed Iran had stopped its enrichment activities - the central part of an agreement with Europe designed to head off possible U.N. sanctions.
"Let's say I hope it's true," Bush said.
But, he added, "I think the definition of truth is the willingness of the Iranian regime to allow for verification."
Iranian leaders "have said some things in the past, and it's very important for them to verify" that Tehran is not attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, Bush said.
He said that it wasn't just the United States that was concerned. "France, Great Britain and Germany and other nations around the world understand the dangers of the Iranian government having a nuclear weapon."
"It looks like there is some progress," Bush said. "But to determine whether the progress is real, there must be verification."
The United States had sought to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, a step that could lead to sanctions. However, if the International Atomic Energy Agency rules that Iran is honoring its commitment to suspend enrichment, it would blunt any call for sanctions.
Bush's comments on verification echoed the late President Reagan's famous "trust but verify" insistence to Soviet leaders on the subject of enforcing nuclear-arms reduction agreements.
Speaking in their shirt sleeves at two waterfront podiums set up overlooking the Caribbean city, Bush and Uribe talked about cooperation between their nations in combating drug trafficking, and about efforts to establish free trade across the hemisphere.
Uribe linked his government's fight against rebels and drug traffickers to the larger war on terrorism. "We have made a major effort which translates into greater security," Uribe said.
Bush said he would ask Congress to renew U.S. support for anti-drug efforts. He noted that the United States, during the past five years, had provided Colombia with more than $3 billion in aid.
"The drug traffickers who practice violence and intimidation in this country send their addictive and deadly products to the United States," Bush said. "Defeating them is vital to the safety of our peoples and to the stability of this hemisphere."
"This war against narcoterrorism can and will be won, and Colombia is well on its way to that victory."