By Skeeter Sanders
President Bush rejected Tuesday any suggestions of a change in U.S. policy toward Iran, despite the release the previous day of a long-awaited U.S. intelligence report that concluded Tehran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Bush denied that the new national intelligence estimate -- the collective judgment of the nation's 16 intelligence agencies -- had undercut his administration's repeated assertions that Iran was building nuclear weapons. The report said Tehran's determination to develop nuclear weapons "is less ... than we have been judging."
“I have said Iran is dangerous,” a grim-faced Bush insisted to reporters at his first White House press conference in nearly seven weeks. "The NIE doesn’t do anything to change my opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world — quite the contrary. Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Report a Clear Embarrassment to Bush -- And Cheney
Clearly, however, the report's finding that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago was an embarrassment to Bush -- and a humiliating defeat for Vice President Dick Cheney, who had put unrelenting pressure on the intelligence community for months to make the document more supportive of his view on Iran that critics charge are aimed at justifying U.S. military action against Tehran.
On November 12, The 'Skeeter Bites Report published a story by the Inter-Press Service's Gareth Porter that broke the news that Cheney's pressure on the intelligence analysts who wrote the NIE on Iran had held up its release for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program.
But now it turns out that those "dissenting judgments" actually reflected the majority opinion of the intelligence community -- which refused to knuckle under to the vice president. Cheney was noticeably tight-lipped Tuesday, declining all media requests for comment about the final report.
The vice president had been sounding increasingly bellicose in his public comments on Iran in recent months. In a speech in October, Cheney warned that if Iran “stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.”
Bush Claims He Learned of NIE Last Week -- But White House Sat On It for 14 Months
Asked if he had been "hyping" the threat from Iran, the president asserted that he was only made aware of the NIE last week and insisted it had changed nothing. "I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger. I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace. My opinion hasn't changed."
"The White House wanted a document that it could use as evidence for its Iran policy," said Giraldi. Despite pressures on the analysts to change their dissenting conclusions, however, they refused to go along with White House conclusions they believed were not supported by the evidence.
Giraldi said Cheney's office had objected to the analysts' findings on both the Iranian nuclear program and Iran's role in Iraq. The 2006 draft NIE did not conclude that there was confirming evidence that Iran was arming Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq.