Bush on Iran: I didn't know about halt to weapons program (but it doesn't matter)

The president said he knew there was something new about Iran -- he just didn't know what.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 4, 2007 3:38PM (EST)

At a White House press conference this morning, George W. Bush was asked whether his administration's saber rattling on Iran -- undercut by a new National Intelligence Estimate that says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- would further damage U.S. credibility in the world.

His answer: "Actually, I am -- you know, I want to compliment the intelligence community for their good work."

Bush said there's no risk to U.S. credibility abroad because everyone knows -- or ought to -- that Iran is dangerous regardless whether it has a nuclear weapons program now. He also said that the new NIE is proof that intelligence reforms enacted after the Iraq war began are working.

"People say, 'Why is that you can't get exact knowledge quicker?'" Bush said. "The answer is, we're dealing with a regime that is, uh, not very transparent."

He's right about that part.

As the Washington Post reported this morning, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said Monday that Bush was told in August or September that the U.S. intelligence community was analyzing evidence that Iran had halted its weapons program. Asked why he and his administration continued to escalate their rhetoric even after he got that warning, Bush said today that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell had told him only, "'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."

Didn't anybody say, "Maybe you want to back it down a little bit"? "No," Bush said. "I've never -- nobody ever told me that."

OK, but now that he knows, the president is going to ratchet down the rhetoric, right? Wrong. "I have said Iran is dangerous," Bush said. "The NIE doesn't do anything to change my opinion."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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