Bush Urges Allies to Join U.S. Efforts to Confront Iran
President Makes Appeal During Eight-Day Trip Through Middle East Region
Sunday, January 13, 2008; 12:24 PM
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 13 -- President Bush accused Iran Sunday 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 tried to speak directly to the people of Iran as he urged nations to help the United States "confront this danger before it is too late."
"You have a right to live under a government that listens to your wishes, respects your talents and allows you to build better lives for your families," Bush said to Iranians. "Unfortunately, your government denies you these opportunities, and threatens the peace and stability of your neighbors. So we call on the regime in Tehran to heed your will, and to make itself accountable to you."
The comments Sunday were part of a Bush speech devoted to advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. It was the latest in a steady volley of attacks on Iran in the past week that began even before Bush left for Jerusalem last Tuesday.
Bush is trying to persuade Arab countries to join U.S. efforts to pressure Iran, though many have displayed ambivalence about the administration's campaign amid a new U.S. intelligence report that concluded Iran stopped a nuclear weapons program in 2003.
The president will travel Monday to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, viewed by many inside and out of the administration as the lynchpin of its efforts to develop an anti-Iran coalition. As part of an effort to show its commitment to Saudi Arabia, a senior administration official said the White House plans to notify Congress about a substantial package of arms sales for Saudi Arabia; it seemed likely to be on the order of $20 billion.
Bush has issued stiff warnings to Tehran that it faced "serious consequences" for a recent incident in which the Pentagon accused Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats of harassing its ships in the Straight of Hormuz, a vital passage for oil. Iran has challenged the U.S. account of the incident. New details have emerged in the past few days that raised questions about parts of this initial account, including a Pentagon acknowledgement that a threatening radio message heard by the U.S. ships may not have come from the Iranians.
Before leaving Bahrain Sunday morning for Abu Dhabi, Bush visited the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, where he talked about the incident with Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the fleet. One senior administration official, briefing reporters about the visit, said Cosgriff discussed the behavior of the vessels and why they were threatening, and reminded the president that the Navy lostlives in the attack on the USS Cole from small vessels filled with explosives.
"It was a pretty instructive and sobering discussion, and one that suggested that our people have behaved in a pretty responsible way," said the official, who spoke on background under ground rules set by the White House. "But also it explains why the president was so clear in his message to the Iranians that they engage in this kind of behavior, it is risky, and it's risky for them."
Iran sharply disputed the U.S. allegations, according to Reuters. "We exercised restraint and we very calmly announced that this was a routine procedure but they tried to . . . raise this issue at the same time when Mr. Bush was traveling to the region in order to paint Iran in a negative light," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters.
Bush used his speech here to renew his call for freedom and reform in the Middle East, a cause he championed strongly in the first part of his second term -- but that has since taken a back seat to security concerns, according to many experts on the region. The president said it is "the declared policy of the United States to support these peoples as they claim their freedom -- as a matter of natural right and national interest."
"We believe that stability can only come through a free and just Middle East,where the extremists are marginalized by millions of moms and dads who want the same opportunities for their children that we have for ours," Bush said.
In regards to Iran's nuclear activities, the spokeswoman for the United Nation's chief nuclear inspector said Sunday Iran's leaders have agreed to answer all remaining questions about their country's past nuclear activities within four weeks, according to news service reports.
The International Atomic Energy Agency probe of post Iranian nuclear programs was originally scheduled to be completed in December, and the United States and its allies have been chafing at the delay.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Sunday ended a two-day visit to Tehran that included meetings with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Associated Press reported.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the Iranian move was not enough. "answering questions about their past nuclear activities is a step, but they still need to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activity," he said. "Another declaration is no substitute for complying with the U.N. sanctions."