Bush: Iran Still a Danger Despite Report
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 1:33 AM
WASHINGTON -- Defending his credibility, President Bush said Tuesday that Iran is dangerous and must be squeezed by international pressure despite a blockbuster intelligence finding that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago.
Bush said the new conclusion _ contradicting earlier U.S. assessments _ would not prompt him to take off the table the possibility of pre-emptive military action against Iran. Nor will the United States change its policy of trying to isolate Iran diplomatically and punish it with sanctions, he said.
"Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," the president told a White House news conference a day after the release of a new national intelligence estimate representing the consensus of all U.S. spy agencies.
On Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats said they hoped the report would have a cooling effect on the administration's rhetoric, which they said was hyped and counterproductive. At a campaign debate in Iowa, seven Democratic presidential candidates stood in agreement that the United States should shift its focus with Iran to diplomatic engagement.
"They should have stopped the saber rattling, should never have started it," said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Bush "should seize this opportunity." But she also said it was clear that pressure on Iran has had an effect _ a point disputed by rival Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
While U.S. intelligence about Iran has changed, Bush showed no inclination to alter course. Iran continues to produce enriched uranium that could be transferred to a secret weapons program, he said.
"So, I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. And the reason why it's a warning signal is that they could restart it," the president said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, en route to Ethiopia for talks with African leaders, said it would be a "big mistake" to ease diplomatic pressure on Tehran.
"I continue to see Iran as a dangerous power in international politics," Rice said. "At this moment, it doesn't appear to have an active weaponization program. That frankly is good news. But if it causes people to say, 'Oh well then we don't need to worry about what the Iranians are doing,' I think we will have made a big mistake."
Rice worked the phones to explain the new assessment, reaching out to the foreign ministers of Germany, Britain and France, as well as China and Russia, according to U.S. officials. She spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whom she expects to see later this week at a NATO meeting in Brussels.
"What I am going to say to my colleagues is, 'Look, we have got the right strategy," Rice told reporters.
Rice urged nations such as China and Russia not to harden their stance against a new round of sanctions against Iran, saying the fact that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of international pressure shows that diplomacy works.