President Bush said today that despite a new intelligence report asserting that Iran stopped its development of nuclear weapons in 2003, "nothing has changed" in U.S. policy.
"Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the know-how necessary to make a nuclear weapon," Bush said at a news conference Tuesday. Noting that Iran had yet to acknowledge its nuclear past, Bush said the National Intelligence Estimate released Monday only underscores the need for international diplomacy to pressure Iran to "change their ways."
The report "makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat," said Bush. "Somebody hid their program once, they could hide it again."
Bush insisted he did not know about the new NIE's content until he was briefed on it last week. He said "all options" are still on the table for dealing with Iran, but he stressed diplomacy to resolve the issue.
"The best diplomacy -- effective diplomacy -- is one in which all options are on the table," he said.
Congressional critics, recalling the administration's more bellicose statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq, were quick to call on Bush to roll back some of his rhetoric on Iran in light of the new intelligence estimate.
"Obviously, we have to address continuing challenges from Iran. We need to ratchet up our diplomacy and continue working with the international community," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "But it's time for the president to look at the cold, hard facts on Iran and walk back from the overheated rhetoric. The last thing America needs is to be misled into another war based on hype and trumped-up intelligence."
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who chairs the subcommittee on intelligence and terrorism risk assessment, called the intelligence estimate "a stunning document -- clear, concise and unambiguous about Iran's present intentions and capabilities."
Agreeing that Iran "is a tough target," she said its danger was "made tougher because of the White House's implacable refusal to talk to its government."
Bush said he would agree to talks with Iran only after the country suspended its uranium enrichment program.
On other issues, Bush called on Congress to complete its work before Christmas, saying troops in Iraq were waiting for funding and taxpayers at home were waiting for relief from the alternative minimum tax. He warned that if Congress passed "an irresponsible spending bill, I'm going to veto it."
Bush welcomed the results of elections in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez lost an effort to overhaul the constitution. "Venezuela rejected one-man rule," said Bush. "They voted for democracy."
Bush said he also talked to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin about the intelligence estimate on Iran, saying it was a credit to international diplomacy to pressure the regime to drop its nuclear ambitions.
The president deflected questions about the campaign trail, saying he was going to resist becoming "the pundit in chief" for the next year. But he said he would miss the campaign trail -- especially the competition.
"The most disappointing thing about Washington has been the name-calling," he said. "Congress needs to stop ... passing legislation to get a headline," he said, adding that Democrats in Congress "wasted time" on a child's insurance program.