Bush Further Distances Himself From Iran Intelligence: My Job Is Not To ‘Defend Our NIE’

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"Bush Further Distances Himself From Iran Intelligence: My Job Is Not To ‘Defend Our NIE’"

When the intelligence community concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said that President Bush “accepted the results of the NIE.” Earlier this week, Perino again insisted that Bush had never expressed “anything but support” for the NIE’s findings.

Yet in an interview with Fox News that aired last night, Bush made clear that he doesn’t share the NIE’s conclusions. While he admitted that the intelligence officials were probably “sincere” in what they wrote, he refused to say whether he believed them:

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you believe — in December there was an intelligence report that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program as of 2003. Do you believe that?

BUSH: I believe that the intelligence professionals are very sincere in their analysis. That should not say to people that Iran is not a threat. [...]

I believe they want a weapon, and I believe that they’re trying to gain the know-how as to how to make a weapon under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.

He then added that “frankly,” it “should not be for me to have to defend our NIE.” Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2008/01/bushniegret.320.240.flv]

Bush repeatedly distanced himself from the NIE throughout his Middle East trip. While in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Bush “made it clear” that the intelligence services are an “independent agency” and “come to conclusions separate from what I may or may not want.” According to Newsweek, he also told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the NIE’s “conclusions don’t reflect his own views.”

With these statements, Bush has positioned himself to the right of even Vice President Cheney, who told the Politico in December: “I don’t have any reason to question the — what the community has produced, with respect to the NIE on Iran.”

Transcript:

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you believe — in December there was an intelligence report that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program as of 2003. Do you believe that?

BUSH: I believe that the intelligence professionals are very sincere in their analysis. That should not say to people that Iran is not a threat. In other words —

VAN SUSTEREN: You believe that —

BUSH: I believe they want a weapon, and I believe that they’re trying to gain the know-how as to how to make a weapon under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.

Basically, what they’re saying, we just want to learn to enrich in order to have civilian nuclear power. The problem is knowledge can be transferred from a civilian program to a military program.

What I have told people out here is that if you had a military program once, you can easily start it up again. A lot of people heard that NIE out here and said that George Bush and the Americans don’t take the Iranian threat seriously. And one of my missions out here is to make it clear to them I do take it seriously, and so should they. [...]

For example, our NIE said they had a program. They suspended their program, but they have yet to admit they’ve had a program.

The object, frankly, should not be for me to have to defend our NIE, it ought to be for them to tell the world the nature of their program, to be fully transparent, like they’re so supposed to be under the IAEA and the NPT — these are all initials for agreement that they signed onto to protect the world from proliferation.

And so the trip has been successful from this perspective of saying we take this threat seriously and we will keep the pressure on.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think the January 6 incident in the Straits of Hormuz, was that sort of a gesture toward you, do you think, by the Iranian speedboats coming on our Navy?

BUSH: I do not know what their intention might have been, but it was provocative, and it was dangerous. And they should not do that.

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