At today’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Tony Snow faced intense questioning over administration claims that Iranians have smuggled weapons into Iraq with “the approval of senior Iranian officials.” Yesterday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace seemed to contradict this claim, saying that he has not seen evidence that the Iranian government “clearly knows or is complicit” in the weapons smuggling.
CNN’s Ed Henry pressed Snow: “When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff seems to be saying something different than the White House, does that raise questions about how solid this evidence is?” But Snow insisted that the White House and Pace were “not on separate pages.”
Later, Henry accused Snow of repeatedly “changing what my question is.” Snow said, “No, no, I’m trying to clarify your question,” but Henry interrupted. “I don’t need it clarified. I’m trying to tell you — I know what my question is, and basically, [Pace is] saying that he doesn’t see evidence that the Iranian government is clearly behind it. That’s my — I’ve asked that three or four times, you haven’t answered that.”
HENRY: “…the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.” Are you saying that you, from this podium, know more than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
SNOW: I am telling you what the intelligence indicates. And…
HENRY: So, was he not in the loop? I’m just trying to understand why there’s a contradiction, where the chairman of the Joint Chiefs –
SNOW: There’s not — Ed. Calm down. I know you’re excited. Your voice is rising, your pace is increasing.
HENRY: I’m not. I’m telling you that –
SNOW: I’m telling you —
HENRY: He’s saying this. I’m not.
SNOW: No, I’m telling you, I talked with him. Ok. I’ve talked to him since –
HENRY: Well, we’ll follow up with him as well.
SNOW: You better.
SNOW: Uh, that, in fact, you’re going to find that we generally agree on — we agree on the basics of the situation here, which is, there are armaments that have made their way from Iran into Iraq. There are Iranian forces in Iraq. These weapons are being used to kill Americans and we’re going to do everything we can to protect our people.
HENRY: On the substance of it, the briefers over the weekend said, um, that these parts are sent to Iraq with the approval of senior Iranian officials, and the bottom line is, he seems to be contradicting that.
SNOW: Well, I think what Gen. Pace may have been saying — in fact, I know he’s saying — he is — and this is where we get to the rhetorical question I was asking you before. Do we have a signed piece of paper from Mr. Khamenei or from President Ahmadinejad signing off on this? No. But are the Quds Forces part of the army — part of the government? The answer is yes. So the question is, I think this ends up being a semantic dispute about senior levels of the government or the government. And the fact is, the government knows about it.
HENRY: But is it really a question about whether or not you have strong evidence, when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff seems to be saying something different than the White House, does that raise questions about how solid this evidence is?
SNOW: No, because you got — you’ve got — you have explosively formed penetrators. He says they exist, correct?
HENRY: Well, I don’t see that in this particular quote, but I —
SNOW: Well, no, no. He said that there’s, there are weapons that are coming from Iran —
HENRY: He says that there are projectiles manufactured in Iran.
SNOW: Alright, so, ok, so there’s no doubt about that, correct?
SNOW: There are Iranians in Iraq. There’s no question about that, correct?
SNOW: Alright, so where’s the credibility problem, in terms of the — are you saying –
HENRY: In terms of the Iranian government being behind it. That’s not — nobody’s disputing whether it’s manufactured in Iran. That’s what you keep changing what my question is.
SNOW: No, no, I’m trying to clarify your question, because I think this is the –
HENRY: I don’t need it clarified. I’m trying to tell you — I know what my question is, and basically, he’s saying that he doesn’t see evidence that the Iranian government is clearly behind it. That’s my — I’ve asked that three or four times, you haven’t answered that.
REPORTER: But it seems to be a reasonable expectation that the American people can have to get some kind of explanation for how you can have the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the administration on two separate pages.
SNOW: We’re not on separate pages. The explanation is –
SNOW: Because everybody’s trying to get into semantic –
REPORTER: Yesterday, you said the administration is confident the report on Iran is accurate and the weaponry is coming with the knowledge of the Iranian government.
SNOW: With the government, yeah, and I still –
REPORTER: But now you’re says the Quds Forces, which is part of the Iranian government. You’re sort of parsing.
SNOW: Well, I was parsing yesterday. I’m trying to be careful about how we do this. The question is, do we know that some particular senior official signed off? No. It’s an opaque government. It’s not a transparent government.