By: E&P Staff
At his press conference this morning in ice-covered Washington, D.C., President Bush was pressed by reporters on U.S. officials’ claims at a Baghdad briefing on Sunday. These unnamed officials charged that not only were weapons from Iran killing American soldiers in Iraq, they were being used on orders from top Iranian leaders.
The New York Times and Washington Post, among other papers, featured these charges on the top of their Web sites and front page on Sunday and Monday. Since then, skepticism has grown, with even Gen. Peter Pace saying that he knew of no evidence linking Iranian leaders to any use of such weapons.
So the question came up at today’s press conference. Here is an excerpt.
QUESTION: Critics say that you are using the same quality of intelligence about Iran that you used to make the case for war in Iraq — specifically about WMD — that turned out to be wrong, and that you are doing that to make a case for war against Iran.
Is that the case?
BUSH: I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops.
And I’d like to repeat: I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of government.
But my point is: What’s worse — them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it’s happening?
And so we will continue to protect our troops.
We — our strategy is comprehensive in order to resolve problems that will affect our own peace and the peace in the world.
And the biggest problem I see is the Iranians’ desire to have a nuclear weapon. And, as you know, we’ve been dealing with this issue ever since you’ve been covering me, and pretty much ever since I’ve been the president.
And we’ve made it very clear to the Iranians that, if they would like to have a dialogue with the United States, there needs to be a verifiable suspension of their program.
I would hope that they would do that. I would like to be — have been — given a chance for us to explain that we have no desire to harm the Iranian people.
But my focus is on making sure that this weapon is dealt with, the program is dealt with in a constructive, peaceful way.
And we’ll continue to work toward achieving our common objectives, with other nations in the world, in a peaceful way….
Q I want to follow up on Iran one more time. Are you saying, today, that you do not know if senior members of the Iranian government are, in fact, behind these explosives? That contradicts what U.S. officials said in Baghdad on Sunday. They said the highest levels of the Iranian government were behind this.
It also — it seems to square with what General Pace has been saying, but contradicts with what your own press secretary said yesterday. What…
BUSH: Can I — let me — I can’t say it more plainly: There are weapons in Iraq that are harming U.S. troops because of the Quds Force.
As you know, I hope, the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. Whether Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds Force to do this, I don’t think we know. But we do know that they’re there.
And I intend to do something about it.
And I’ve asked our commanders to do something about it. And we’re going to protect our troops.
Q But given some of those contradictions, Mr. President…
BUSH: There’s no contradiction that the weapons are there and they were provided by the Quds Force…
Q What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time will be accurate?
BUSH: We know they’re there. We know they’re provided by the Quds Force. We know the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. I don’t think we need who picked up the phone and said to the Quds Force, “Go do this,” but we know it’s a vital part of the Iranian government.
What matters is, is that we’re responding. The idea that somehow we’re manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous. My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we’re going to do something about it, pure and simple.
Now, David says: Does this mean you’re trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I’m trying to protect our troops. That’s what that’s means. And that’s what the family members of our soldiers expect the commander in chief and those responsible for — responsible for our troops on the ground.
And we’ll continue to do so.