Bush insists Iran arming Iraq
WASHINGTON ” President Bush said Wednesday he’s certain the Iranian government is supplying deadly weapons used by fighters in Iraq against U.S. troops, even if he can’t prove that the orders came from top Iranian leaders.
More important, Bush said in his first news conference of the year, is the need to protect American forces against the new weapons and technology, including sophisticated new roadside bombs.
“I’m going to do something about it,” Bush pledged, displaying apparent irritation at being repeatedly asked about mixed administration signals on who was behind the weaponry.
“To say it is provoking Iran is just a wrong way to characterize the commander in chief’s decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm’s way,” Bush said.
U.S. officials have said that Iran is behind attacks against troops in Iraq, an assertion denied by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Meanwhile, Bush shrugged off congressional debate on a resolution opposing his Iraq policy, noting that the measure was nonbinding and mostly symbolic. But he said U.S. troops are counting on lawmakers to provide them the funds they need to win.
Bush spoke as the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives debated a measure opposing his decision to send some 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.
“They have every right to express their opposition and it is a nonbinding resolution,” he said of the House members. But he suggested he would dig in his heels if Congress wavered on emergency spending legislation to pay for the operation.
“Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C. to provide them with the support they need to do their mission,” Bush said.
In his first news conference since Dec. 20, Bush said he had just received his first briefing from Baghdad by Gen. David Petraeus, the new chief commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bush said he talked with Petraeus about coordination between Iraqi and coalition forces, and that while it seemed to be good, more work was needed on developing an efficient command-and-control structure.
Meanwhile, Bush responded carefully when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent sharp criticism. He has a “complicated relationship” with the Russian leader, the president said.
Putin slammed U.S. domination of world affairs at an international conference of security officials in Germany over the weekend, saying the U.S. was making the world more dangerous by overusing its military power.
The depth of Putin’s criticism surprised U.S. officials. Moscow and Washington drew closer together immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but more recently relations have been strained.
Bush emphasized he and Putin have a lot they agree on, including on making sure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.
– Welcomed North Korea’s tentative agreement, announced Tuesday, to shut down its nuclear program in exchange for oil. But, said Bush, “those who say the North Koreans have got to prove themselves by following through on the deal are right, and I’m one. This is a good first step.”
– Refused to answer questions about the perjury trial of former vice presidential chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, drawing laughs when the told the questioner: “Would you like to think of another question? Being the kind man that I am, I will recycle you.”
– Also refused to talk about the 2008 presidential race, saying, “I will resist all temptation to become the pundit-in-chief.”
– Said he could work with the new Democratic Congress on issues such as balancing the federal budget, immigration and energy.
On alleged Iranian involvement in Iraq, Bush appeared to back away from assertions at a weekend briefing in Baghdad by three senior U.S. military officials.
The officials said shipments into Iraq of deadly new weapons and technology had been approved at the highest levels in Tehran.
Bush said that he could only say “with certainty” that the weapons were provided by an elite part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which is part of the government.
But, the president added, he does not know whether the weapons were “ordered from the top echelons of government. But, my point is, what’s worse, them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?”