True to form, Bush refuses to budge on Iran

United States President George Bush is not known for changing his mind. Unmoved by the collective wisdom of the US intelligence community, he still insists that Iran is a threat, even if it did give up its nuclear weapons programme four years ago.

Experts say Bush is a president who tends to see the world in black and white rather than shades of gray.

”He has always been known for being decisive and sticking to his guns,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

”I’m not surprised that he is clinging to a policy that he agrees with because he is not somebody who is easily persuaded to change his mind.”

After months of berating Iran over its nuclear programme and raising the spectre of World War III, Bush seemed unswayed by a new national intelligence finding that Iran halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003.

The National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, directly contradicted Bush’s the hawkish rhetoric on Iran and that of Vice-President Dick Cheney.

At a news conference on Tuesday Bush would not budge.

”I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace,” he said. My opinion hasn’t changed.”

The United States is seeking more United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, and Bush argued that the new assessment was evidence that diplomatic pressure was working.

A self-described ”decider”, Bush prides himself on his decisions and standing by them.

That may play into the hands of Democrats in the 2008 presidential race. Some already have likened Bush’s unbending position on Iran to his stance on Iraq where no weapons of mass destruction were found — undercutting the administration’s main justification for invading in March 2003.

Weary public

”It’s exactly what he did in the run-up to the war in Iraq in consistently exaggerating intelligence suggesting that Iraq had WMD [weapons of mass destruction], while failing to tell the American people about intelligence concluding that it did not,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairperson Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat running for president.

The intelligence report said there was ”high confidence” that just months after the US invasion of Iraq, Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme. It said Tehran’s decision suggested it was less determined to develop nuclear weapons than had been judged in a 2005 intelligence report.

The difficulty now will be to persuade an American public that has grown increasingly weary of the Iraq war — and a European public that opposed it from the start — that the world needs to ratchet up the pressure on Iran.

”There will be more of a swing in the public at large than there will be in Washington. People are relieved that World War III is on hold,” said Michael Levi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of On Nuclear Terrorism.

Few analysts expected Bush to shift policy on Iran.

”The administration’s approach to Iraq didn’t change with changing intelligence, its approach to North Korea didn’t change with changing intelligence, and it’s not a surprise that its approach to Iran won’t change with the new intelligence,” Levi said.

Some analysts felt Bush could have made more of the fact that he was willing to come forward and face a barrage of questions about the contradictory intelligence estimate.

”This is a White House that has traditionally seen things in rather black-and-white terms, and this is a very messy, a very complicated NIE that requires a lot of nuance which this administration has typically had difficulty with and has so far not done a very good job grappling with,” said Kenneth Pollack, research director at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. – Reuters

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