White House Seeks to Clarify Iran Stance
Thursday, December 6, 2007; 6:43 PM
WASHINGTON -- The White House sought Thursday to clarify remarks on the new intelligence report on Iran by President Bush that have been called into question.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Bush said he was told in August by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell that "we have some new information" that would delay a new assessment of Iran's nuclear activities by the U.S. intelligence community.
"He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze," Bush said then. The president added that "nobody ever told me" that he should back down on heated rhetoric about Iran as a result of the potential new findings.
However, White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement Wednesday night and in more detail at her daily briefing with reporters on Thursday that McConnell did tell Bush in August that Iran may have halted its nuclear weapons program and that, if confirmed, it could result in a new Iran view from the intelligence community.
The only thing Bush didn't get then, she explained, were "the raw detail in terms of the sources and methods" and what sort of checking was going to be done.
"I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language," she said. "But the president was being truthful."
At the same time, she offered no apologies for the provocative remarks on Iran from Bush, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, that continued even after that August notification from McConnell.
Bush suggested in October that preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons was necessary to avoid World War III. Also in October, Cheney said the U.S. and other nations are "prepared to impose serious consequences" if Iran continued on its current course, language reminiscent of the run-up to war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003. "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," Cheney said.
The administration has repeatedly denied that the rhetoric represented a march to war with Iran, but furious speculation continued.
The new report, called a National Intelligence Estimate and released Monday, concluded that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons program, but halted it in 2003.
Perino said it will not prompt a change in Bush's beliefs, statements or policy on Iran, since Tehran continues to enrich uranium and develop ballistic missiles and since there is now evidence it had a covert nuclear arms program, even if suspended. All this means Iran is developing both the know-how and delivery systems necessary for a nuclear bomb, she said, adding that they could restart a weapons program and may still have one that is not known to the outside world.
"This should not give us comfort," she said. "We are concerned enough about these activities to think that there could be a nuclear program in the future."
Perino also had to correct herself.
During her daily briefing with reporters, Perino initially said that "what we know right now, for sure, is that Iran is enriching uranium, which is fissile material, to get a bomb."
Later, she said that what she meant was that Iran is enriching uranium "which can lead to fissile material to get a bomb."
Asked if the administration believes Iran is enriching uranium to the higher degree necessary for a weapon, as opposed to civilian energy production, she said, "We don't know."