Tuesday, January 30, 2007

President Bush on Iran

Below are two excerpts from Juan Williams interview with President Bush on NPR on January 29, 2007. Click here for the full transcript and audio. General Gard notes that in this interview President Bush does only said that he does not have the intent of “going into Iran.” However, he did not say we would not attack Iran, which would be different than “going into” or “invading.” Another colleague notes that President Bush used the same language prior to the Iraq War. It is unclear however whether the President purposefully chose his wording.

MR. WILLIAMS: …Iran's ambassador to Iraq says Iran is planning to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iran – with Iraq. You said you have proof of Iran's role in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. I know you want to take care of this diplomatically – I've heard you say that – but if Iran escalates its military action in Iraq, how will the U.S. respond?

PRESIDENT BUSH: If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly. We – it makes common sense for the commander-in-chief to say to our troops and the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government that we will help you defend yourself from people that want to sow discord and harm. And so we will do what it takes to protect our troops.

One of the things that is very important in discussing Iran is not to mix issues. Our relationship with Iran is based upon a lot of different issues. One is what is happening in Iraq. Another is their ambitions to have a nuclear weapon. And we're dealing with this issue diplomatically, and I think this can be solved diplomatically. And the message that we are working to send to the Iranian regime and the Iranian people is that you will become increasingly isolated if you continue to pursue a nuclear weapon.

The message to the Iranian people is that your government is going to cause you deprivation. In other words, you've got a chance to really flourish again as a great tradition. However, if your government continues to insist upon a nuclear weapon, there will be lost opportunity for the Iranian people. They won't be able to realize their full potential.

The Iranian people have got to know that this government and the United States bears no hostility to them. We're just deeply concerned about a government that is insisting upon having a nuclear weapon, and at the same time, rewriting history – the history of the past, and regards, for example, the Holocaust. It troubles a lot of people in this world, and I'll continue to work with, you know, friends and allies to send a clear message.

MR. WILLIAMS: By the way, just quickly, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader says that if you have an incursion into Iran, he expects that you would come to the Senate for approval.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I have no intent upon incur—going into Iran. I mean, this is the kind of thing that happens in Washington. People ascribe, you know, motives to me beyond a simple statement – of course we'll protect our troops. I don't know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran. If that's what he's talking about, there's – I mean, we will protect our interests in Iraq. That's what the American people expect us to do. That's definitely what our troops want to do, and that's what the families of our troops want us to do. And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we'll deal with it.

MR. WILLIAMS: One last thing, Mr. President. When you look at the quality of intelligence that you're getting about the nuclear program in Iran right now, do you think it's better than the quality of intelligence you were getting about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No question that there is a certain skepticism about intelligence. We all thought that that – that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and "we all" being not only the administration, but members from both political parties in the Congress. The previous administration felt that the intelligence indicated there was weapons of mass destruction. The international community – in other words, I just want you to know that there was a universal belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction including critics of Iraq, like the French, who voted for 1441 in the Security Council.

And therefore when it turned out not to be true, there is a certain skepticism about intel. And however, the skepticism about intel, while it needs to be tempered by, you know, the – by an analysis of statements or other fragments of intelligence – what I am trying to say that I take the Iranian nuclear threat very seriously even though the intel on Iraq was not what it was thought to be, and we have to.

Now – so how do you solve the problem on intel? Well, you get more human intelligence. You constantly reevaluate the system itself and make sure that these really fine souls that work for the different intelligence agencies are given the tools they need. And so – look, I'm like a lot of Americans that say, well, if it wasn't right in Iraq, how do you know it's right in Iraq. And so we are constantly evaluating, and answering this legitimate question by always working to get as good intelligence as we can.

MR. WILLIAMS: And Negroponte's departure, did it concern you – do you feel like the CIA, all of these intelligence agencies are doing a better job now?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I think they understand the lessons of Iraq. And you know, we put the Silverman Robb Commission together, and wanted to make – look, the president needs the best intelligence. This is a war against a group of killers that still want to come and kill us, that is going to require accurate intelligence to give us the data necessary to act to protect Americans before the attack. And therefore we are all pulling for good intelligence.

And Negroponte is much needed at the State Department. He is one of these public servants who brings a lot of skills, and a lot of really – and a lot of good judgment. And I asked him to go to the State Department to help Condi, and found a very suitable replacement, a guy named Mike McConnell. And the change of personnel really is not a reflection upon whether or not the intel is getting better or worse; the change of personnel is putting our best players in the best positions as we head into the final two years of the administration.

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