Bush Chooses What to Believe

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, January 14, 2008; 2:06 PM

President Bush has apparently found a way to reconcile his bellicose views of Iran with the recent National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program four years ago.

Michael Hirsh writes for Newsweek that "in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. 'He told the Israelis that he can't control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE's] conclusions don't reflect his own views' about Iran's nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity. . . .

"A source close to the Israeli leader said Bush first briefed Olmert about the intelligence estimate a week before it was published, during talks in Washington that preceded the Annapolis peace conference in November. According to the source, who also refused to be named discussing the issue, Bush told Olmert he was uncomfortable with the findings and seemed almost apologetic."

Bush's Fresh Round of Sabre Rattling

Michael Abramowitz writes in the Washington Post from Abu Dhabi: "President Bush on Sunday accused Iran of undermining peace in Lebanon, funding terrorist groups, trying to intimidate its neighbors and refusing to be open about its nuclear program and ambitions.

"In a speech described by the White House as the centerpiece of his eight-day trip to the Middle East, Bush urged other countries to help the United States 'confront this danger before it is too late.'. . .

"Bush is trying to persuade Arab countries to join U.S. efforts to pressure Iran, though many appear ambivalent about the administration's campaign following a new U.S. intelligence report that concluded Iran stopped a nuclear weapons program in 2003."

About That NIE

Jay Solomon and Siobhan Gorman write in the Wall Street Journal: "The December report by the U.S.'s top spy office stating Iran had abandoned its effort to build nuclear weapons was one of the biggest U-turns in the recent history of U.S. intelligence.

"Behind the scenes in Washington, it marked a reversal of a different sort: After years in which Bush appointees and White House staff won out on foreign-policy matters, career staffers in the intelligence world had scored a big victory. . . .

"In the case of the Iran report, the about-face was made possible in part by a 2004 restructuring that gave intelligence chiefs more autonomy."

Solomon and Gorman write that the result of "new procedures for vetting and authenticating reports" was that "the White House was essentially locked out of the process. This marked a big change from the years leading up to the Iraq war, when Mr. Cheney and his top aide, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, made repeated visits to Langley to query analysts about their findings on Iraq's weapons capabilities.

"Through the summer and fall of 2007, as rumors leaked, officials in Mr. Cheney's office and on Capitol Hill grew increasingly concerned about the report's possible conclusions, according to people working at the White House and on Capitol Hill. . . .

"People in Vice President Cheney's office saw the Dec. 3 announcement as a death blow to their Iran policy. The report's authors 'knew how to pull the rug out from under us,' says a long-time aide to the vice president, referring to the way the key judgments were presented."

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