Q Mr. President, a new intelligence report says that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago, and that it remains frozen. Are you still convinced that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb? And do the new findings take the military option that you've talked about off the table?QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you. I’d like to follow on that. When you talked about Iraq, you and others in the administration talked about a mushroom cloud. Then there were no WMD in Iraq.
THE PRESIDENT: Here's what we know. We know that they're still trying to learn how to enrich uranium. We know that enriching uranium is an important step in a country who wants to develop a weapon. We know they had a program. We know the program is halted.
I think it is very important for the international community to recognize the fact that if Iran were to develop the knowledge that they could transfer to a clandestine program it would create a danger for the world. And so I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. And the reason why it's a warning signal is that they could restart it. And the thing that would make a restarted program effective and dangerous is the ability to enrich uranium, the knowledge of which could be passed on to a hidden program.
And so it's a -- to me, the NIE provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community -- continue to rally the community to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program.
You know, the NIE also said that such pressure was effective, and that's what our government has been explaining to other partners in keeping the international pressure on Iran. The best diplomacy, effective diplomacy, is one of which all options are on the table.
When it came to Iran, you said in October — on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when, months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in ‘03 had already come to light to this administration. So can’t you be accused of hyping this threat? And don’t you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?
BUSH: I don’t want to contradict an august reporter such as yourself, but I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John — Mike McConnell came in and said, We have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.
Why would you take time to analyze new information? One, you want to make sure it’s not disinformation. You want to make sure the piece of intelligence you have is real. And secondly, they want to make sure they understand the intelligence they gathered. If they think it’s real, then what does it mean? And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.
And the second part of your question has to do this: Look, Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: President, thank you. Just to follow, I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation — at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?
BUSH: No — I’ve never — nobody ever told me that. Having said — having — having laid that out, I still feel strongly that Iran’s a danger. Nothings changed in this NIE that says, OK, why don’t we just stop worrying about it? Quite the contrary.
And now for the conspiracy theory of the day which makes my head explode:
From Normal Podhoretz who is desperately jonesing for an Iranian invasion and bombing:
"I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations."
And another conspiracy theory by John "Got Milk" Bolton:
I really think the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have to look at how this NIE was put together because there are a lot unexplained points in here. […]
I think there is a risk here, and I raise this as a question, whether people in the intelligence community who had their own agenda on Iran for some time now have politicized this intelligence and politicized these judgments in a way contrary to where the administration was going. I think somebody needs to look at that.
Is is true that the WH was out of the loop until last week? Harper’s Scott Horton interviewed an intelligence community official who casts doubt on the White House’s claim that they only recent learned of the NIE’s judgments:
But one highly reliable intelligence community source I consulted immediately after Hadley spoke answered my question this way: “This is absolutely absurd. The NIE has been in substantially the form in which it was finally submitted for more than six months. The White House, and particularly Vice President Cheney, used every trick in the book to stop it from being finalized and issued. There was no last minute breakthrough that caused the issuance of the assessment.” So what, I asked, if not an intelligence breakthrough, what caused the last-minute change and the sudden issuance of the summary of the NIE? My source had no idea.Sy Hersh revealed that Bush told Olmert about the NIE report 2 days before he was supposedly told about about it on November 28th:
Israel objects to this report. I’m told that Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis — before Annapolis. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.Leading presidential candidate Huckabee was clueless as to the breaking news yesterday:
Reporter: I don’t know to what extent you have been briefed or been able to take a look at the NIE report that came out yesterday …And then later from the Chicago Tribune: “I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says that they suspended the program and how credible that is versus the news that they actually are expanding it,” [Huckabee] said. “And then I’ve heard the last two weeks supposed reports that say that they are accelerating and could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally they thought.”
Huckabee: I’m sorry?
Reporter: The NIE report, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Have you been briefed or been able to take a look at it –
Reporter: Have you heard of the finding?
and finally From Think Progress
The faulty 2005 NIE that said Iran was racing to develop nuclear weapons was “written by some of the same team that had produced key parts of the flawed Iraq estimate.” The “starkly different view of Iran’s nuclear program that emerged from U.S. spy agencies this week” drew lessons from the “intelligence debacle over supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.”