British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday he would back new sanctions against Iran and raise troop levels in Afghanistan in a boost to US President George W. Bush on the last day of a farewell tour of Europe.
Bush and Brown displayed unity at a joint press conference in London
Speaking at a joint news conference with Bush at the Foreign Office in London on Monday, June 16, Brown said Britain and the European Union would act later Monday to freeze the assets of Iran's largest bank, Bank Melli, in response to Tehran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Iran's defiance regarding its suspected nuclear weapons program was a focal point of talks between the two leaders.
Bush has made Iran's nuclear program a focus of his European visit
Bush has made Iran's uranium enrichment program a priority during his European visit and has been encouraging European nations to raise the pressure on the Islamic republic to halt its nuclear activities and allow more extensive international inspections.
Iran insists its program is peaceful, but there is concern the enriched uranium could be used for making nuclear weapons.
Brown's announcement comes on top of restrictions imposed in October 2007 when the US Treasury Department froze bank assets and halted transactions as part of a broader package of sanctions against state-owned Iranian financial institutions.
"Today Britain will urge Europe, and Europe will agree to take further sanctions against Iran," Brown said, referring to EU ministerial talks taking place in Luxembourg.
"We will take any necessary action so that Iran is aware of the choice it has to make to start to play its part as a full and respected member of the international community or face further isolation."
Britain to boost troops in Afghanistan
On Afghanistan, Brown said it was "in the British national interest" to confront the Taliban, "otherwise Afghanistan will come to us."
The prime minister said Britain would send an extra 200 soldiers to the violence-wracked country, where US, British and other troops are battling a fierce Taliban insurgency seven years after the country's invasion. That figure would take British troop levels to 8,000 in Afghanistan.
British soldiers are fighting a fierce Taliban insurgency alongside US troops
"Eighteen months ago, the Taliban boasted that they and their paid foreign fighters would drive our forces out of southern Helmand (province). Now most agree that security is on the way to being transformed," Brown said.
The additional troops are to include specialist engineers and military training experts from different units.
Brown said British forces would, over time, move "from a direct combat role to train and support Afghanistan's own army and police."
Bush says Brown "tough on terror"
Brown's announcement came as the bodies of the latest five British soldiers killed in Afghanistan were due to arrive at an airbase in south-west Britain. Their deaths earlier this month brought the British toll to 102 since military operations began in Afghanistan.
Brown's announcement to boost troops in Afghanistan has been welcomed by Bush, who is on a final tour of Europe as US president and has urged allies to do more to reduce the US burden in the conflict-ridden country.
"You've been strong on Afghanistan and Iraq, and I appreciate it," Bush told the British premier. "But more importantly, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq appreciate it."
Bush praised the prime minister for being "tough on terror" after two hours of talks in Downing Street. The US president said Brown was a person who "fully understands that while some want to say that the terrorist threat has gone, or that it's nothing to worry about, it is something to worry about."
After talks that covered Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, Africa and the global economy, both Brown and Bush dismissed rumors of a rift between them over a timetable for troop withdrawal in Iraq.
On Iraq, Brown said: "There is still work to be done and Britain plays, and will continue to play its part."
The US president is to visit Belfast later for talks on the future of Northern Ireland. Bush visited Germany, Slovenia, Italy and France in the last week and first lady Laura Bush helped raise $20 billion in pledges to help rebuild Afghanistan.