President George W. Bush on Wednesday held up North Korea as a possible model for resolving the Iranian nuclear standoff and reaffirmed a U.S. offer of talks if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment.
North Korea agreed earlier to disable its main nuclear reactor and provide a complete declaration of all nuclear activities by the end of the year under an accord hammered out in six-party talks.
Bush, speaking at the Chamber of Commerce in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, called the North Korea situation a "case study" for Iran in response to an audience question on why the United States would not hold direct negotiations with Tehran.
"Negotiations just for the sake of negotiations oftentimes send wrong signals," Bush said. "Negotiations to achieve consequences are worth doing."
He cited the need to keep up international pressure on Iran in the same way major world powers have pressed North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Washington had refused direct talks with Pyongyang in favor of six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, that proceeded on and off for years before yielding much progress.
Analysts say, however, the United States has less leverage with Iran, a major oil producer, than with impoverished North Korea, which was coaxed into the deal with much-needed fuel and a way out of its diplomatic isolation.
The West suspects that Tehran's nuclear program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran insists it wants nuclear technology for civilian electricity purposes and has defied U.N. resolutions calling on it to suspend uranium enrichment.
Bush, who has been pushing for a third round of U.N. sanctions, reiterated his intention to resolve the Iranian issue through diplomacy, though he acknowledged that progress would not come easily.
IRAN SEES NO PARALLELS
Alluding to Iran's anti-U.S. president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bush said: "This is a leader who has made very provocative statements. And we have made it clear, however, in spite of that, that we're willing to sit down with him, so long as he suspends his program -- his nuclear weapons program."
"And so, if your question is, 'Will you ever sit down with them?' We've proven we would, with North Korea. And the answer is yes, just so long as we can achieve something, so long as we are able to get our objective. ... It takes time to get things in place so that there will be results."
Bush cited China's influence on North Korea as a key factor in securing this week's agreement with Pyongyang. But Beijing and Moscow have both been cool to the idea of further U.N. sanctions on Iran.
Asked about similarities to the North Korean situation and the possibility of China playing a mediating role, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he saw no parallels.
"The nature of (the) two issues are completely different," he told a news conference at the United Nations.
"In North Korea, they are talking about nuclear weapons and in Iran we're talking about nuclear energy. This is peaceful."
(Additional reporting by Claudia Parsons in New York)