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Bush cites Iranian threat as he defends Iraq war

Bush cites Iranian threat as he defends Iraq war

President George W. Bush lashed out at Iran for meddling in Iraq's affairs, and said an early U.S. withdrawal from the country would embolden Tehran to accelerate its alleged nuclear ambitions, touching off an arms race in the volatile Middle East.
In a speech in which he presented a ringing defense of the domestically unpopular Iraq war effort, Bush hailed security gains in Iraq, defended middling progress toward political reconciliation by that county's leaders and argued that the future of the entire Middle East would rise or fall on the outcome. But some of his strongest comments were reserved for Iran, which he has repeatedly accused of fomenting instability in Iraq.
"Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere," Bush said Tuesday before an audience at the American Legion's national convention. "And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late."
Bush stressed that Iran's "active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons, threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust."
"I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities," said Bush, whose administration has accused Iran of arming Shiite militias in Iraq. "The Iranian regime must halt these actions."
Iran has repeatedly denied that it is pursuing nuclear weapons and says that its program is for purely peaceful purposes. Similarly, it has blamed the U.S. for the instability in Iraq.
But Bush's admonishment, which comes two weeks before he is to receive a major assessment of the war in Iraq, marks his continued push to isolate a country he said Tuesday is the "world's leading state sponsor (of) terrorism."
Iran's president on Tuesday said the influence of the U.S. is waning in Iraq and that his country was ready to step in and fill the void _ comments that appeared to give voice to what many perceive as Iran's ambitions to play a bigger role in Iraq.
"Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at a press conference in the Iranian capital. He did not clarify what role that may be.
With Americans increasingly opposed to the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, Bush _ in his second speech in a week devoted to trying to build support for the unpopular war _ urged patience and outlined the dangers of early withdrawal.
"It's going to take time for the recent progress we have seen in security to translate into political progress," he said. "Leaders in Washington need to look for ways to help our Iraqi allies succeed, not excuses for abandoning them."
Bush argued that withdrawing American forces would allow the Middle East to be taken over by extremists and put the security of the United States in jeopardy. By contrast, he said, continuing to fight is "the most important and immediate way" to put the strategic, struggling region on a path to democracy, economic expansion and stability that is inhospitable to terrorists.
Democrats criticized Bush's approach.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush "continues to stubbornly pursue a flawed strategy" that has failed to deliver in Iraq, diverted attention from battling al-Qaida, and depleted the military's ability to respond to other crises. "A change of course in Iraq is long overdue" and will be pressed by the Democrats who control Congress, Reid said.
The Iraq report due to Congress by Sept. 15 requires Ryan Crocker, Bush's envoy in Baghdad, and the top U.S. general in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, to measure whether the 30,000 additional U.S. troops Bush ordered to Iraq in January are improving security enough to create an environment for lasting political progress. The pair also is to say whether Iraqis are performing well on mutually agreed benchmarks.
Bush argued forcefully that the answer to both is "yes."
He said there is reason to be hopeful about Iraqi leaders' efforts, particularly at the local and regional levels. Many benchmarks also are being met in effect without legislation, Bush said, noting that oil revenues are being shared among provinces without the passage of a law to require it.
He praised a weekend pact among leading Iraqi politicians on some other issues that have blocked national reconciliation. However, the Iraqi parliament still must codify the agreements _ something that has repeatedly fallen apart in the past. The deal was not enough to bring the main Sunni Arab political bloc back into the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
After last week's tense exchanges between Washington and Baghdad about U.S. frustration with al-Maliki's government, Bush compared the struggles of Iraq today with the sometimes-difficult nature of democracy during U.S. history.
"In the midst of the security challenges, Iraq's leaders are being asked to resolve political issues as complex and emotional as the struggle for civil rights in our own country," the president said. "So it's no wonder that progress is halting and people are often frustrated. ... Even we can't pass a budget on time, and we've had 200 years of practice."
With the surge of additional U.S. troops now widely viewed as having some tactical success, Bush accused critics of constantly moving the goal post.
"Their argument used to be that security was bad, so the surge has failed. Now their argument seems to be security is better, so the surge has failed," he said.
To keep the surge going, the administration will need to ask for more funds to support it. The Washington Post reported in Wednesday's editions, citing anonymous officials, that the administration was preparing to ask Congress after the Crocker-Petraeus report for up to $50 billion (euro36.59 billion) more in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, for the war. That would be on top of $142 billion (euro103.92 billion) already requested for fiscal 2008.
The additional funding is necessary to pay for the surge, not accounted for in the proposed 2008 budget, the Post reported.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel called the report speculative, saying no decisions have been made about "whether, when or what specific changes" will be made to the budget request and that they will wait until after the Sept. 15 report.
"We have said previously that after General Petraeus reports, we will be evaluating what adjustments may need to be made to our pending supplemental request," Stanzel said.
Later Tuesday, the president flew to New Orleans, where he had dinner with cultural leaders. He was commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's strike there and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Wednesday before returning to Washington.


Updated : 2021-05-10 14:05 GMT+08:00