President Bush Takes Questions on Iran, the Economy, Venezuela
Analysis by Andrea Seabrook, Senior Foreign Editor Loren Jenkins and Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
President George W. Bush speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House, one day after a U.S. intelligence report said Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
President Bush rebuffed concerns Tuesday that the White House may have exaggerated the threat posed by Iran, a day after a new U.S. intelligence report was released indicating that Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Speaking to journalists, the president also criticized Congress for failing to fund the war on terror, make permanent the Foreign Intelligence Security Act, or FISA, and to revise the alternative minimum tax.
"Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon," he said.
The report released Monday presents evidence that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003 and reverses a previous assessment that Tehran re-started that program of uranium enrichment in 2005.
It is part of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that also cautions that Tehran still could develop a bomb as early as 2010 if it decided to do so. The report concludes that Tehran is more susceptible to diplomatic and financial pressure than previously thought.
The president rebuffed questions from journalists who sought to draw comparisons between the White House characterization of the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the lead up to the 2003 invasion and the latest revised intelligence on Iran.
At an Oct. 17 news conference, Bush said, "If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Bush was asked if he had known of the revised intelligence when he made the comments.
"No, no one ever told me that," he said.
"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program and halted the program," the president told reporters. "The reason that it's a warning signal is that it could restart the program."
Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, praised Washington for changing its assessment on Iran's weapons program.
"It's natural that we welcome ... countries that correct their views realistically which in the past had questions and ambiguities about (Iran's nuclear activities)," Mottaki said.
The president also reiterated his call for Congress to pass an acceptable funding measure to continue military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Congress has not acted (and) our soldiers should not have to wait any longer," he said.
On the issue of FISA, which could shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for giving the government access to private e-mails and phone calls, the president said: "Allowing this law to elapse would open gaps in our intelligence efforts and endanger our nation."
He also urged Congress to repeal the so-called alternate minimum tax, which could hit 20 million taxpayers with increases averaging $2,000. House Democrats insist on paying for the AMT fix with revenue increases elsewhere. Republicans have promised to block that approach in the Senate. The common wisdom holds that any AMT fix will ultimately add to the deficit.
Delays in addressing the minimum tax are keeping the IRS from preparing tax forms and computer programs for the upcoming filing season, which means million of taxpayers counting on early refunds will be getting them later.
With additional reporting from The Associated Press