New York Times: The White House sharply criticized a news organization on Tuesday for the second time in two days over reports about administration policy toward Iran, dismissing an Israeli report that President Bush was preparing to order an attack on Iran before leaving office in eight months.
The New York Times
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: May 21, 2008
WASHINGTON — The White House sharply criticized a news organization on Tuesday for the second time in two days over reports about administration policy toward Iran, dismissing an Israeli report that President Bush was preparing to order an attack on Iran before leaving office in eight months.
The White House released a statement disputing a report in The Jerusalem Post that a senior administration official had told Israelis during the president’s visit last week that Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney supported military action against Iran.
The statement, following an even angrier attack on NBC the day before, appeared to reflect a heightened sensitivity to what Mr. Bush’s aides view as mischaracterizations of his intentions in confronting Iran over its pursuit of nuclear enrichment, its involvement in Iraq and its support of the militant Islamic groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian areas.
While Mr. Bush rarely minces words when discussing Iran, his recent speeches, including an address before Israel’s Parliament last week, have been particularly pointed, including unequivocal denunciations and historical allusions to Nazi Germany.
Those remarks have reverberated through the American presidential campaign and again heightened speculation that the administration might be prepared to resort to force to resolve the impasse over Iran’s nuclear activities.
And they continued to provoke debate on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, when Democrats and some Republicans pressed the defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, about the administration’s policy toward Iran.
“We have seen the president’s comment about appeasement of terrorists, but if we do not have dialogue with Iran, at least in one man’s opinion, we’re missing a great opportunity to avoid a future conflict,” said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Gates, however, questioned whether talks could end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programs, given that country’s current leadership.
“I think the key here,” he said, “is developing leverage either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government, so that they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us.”
Mr. Gates did not elaborate, but the United States and other major powers recently agreed to offer Iran modest new incentives to suspend its enrichment of uranium, which has prompted three sets of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, pressed Mr. Gates on whether he still believed that negotiations with Iran were possible after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq in 2003, his position in 2004 when he served as co-chairman of a task force of the Council on Foreign Affairs that reviewed policy toward Iran.
“I was in a happier place,” Mr. Gates replied.
The Jerusalem Post based its article on a report on Israel Army Radio, which cited a senior official in Israel. The official was quoted as saying that only the hesitancy of Mr. Bush’s secretaries of state and defense, Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Gates, stood in the way of an attack.
“An article in today’s Jerusalem Post about the President’s position on Iran that quotes unnamed sources — quoting unnamed sources — is not worth the paper it’s written on,” the White House press secretary, Dana M. Perino, said in a statement.
The Post later removed its article from its Web site and replaced it with one featuring the White House denial. By then, the report had already stirred considerable discussion online.
On Monday, the White House counselor, Ed Gillespie, excoriated NBC News for editing an interview with Mr. Bush in a way that he said distorted the president’s remarks about negotiating with terrorists and radicals.