ASHINGTON - President Bush said Monday the United States "will respond
firmly" if Iran escalates military action in Iraq and endangers American forces.
But Bush emphasized he has no intention of invading Iran.
Bush also acknowledged
skepticism concerning US intelligence about Iran, because Washington was wrong
in accusing Iraq of harboring weapons of mass destruction before the US-led
invasion in 2003. "I'm like a lot of Americans that say, 'Well, if it wasn't
right in Iraq, how do you know it's right in Iran,'" the president said.
US President George W. Bush looks up before speaking at
the House Republican Conference in Cambridge, Maryland, January 26, 2007.
The president, in an interview with NPR, said the United States was
"constantly evaluating and answering this legitimate question by always working
to get as good intelligence as we can."
Sharply at odds over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, Washington and
Tehran increasingly are arguing about Iraq, where both countries are seeking
influence. The White House said last week that American troops in Iraq have been
authorized to kill or capture Iranian agents deemed to be a threat. Iran's
ambassador followed up by telling The New York Times that Tehran plans to
greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq and open an Iranian
national bank branch in Baghdad.
The United States accuses Iran of supplying terrorists and insurgents in Iraq
with improvised explosive devices that have become the most lethal threat to US
forces. The Bush administration says it decided to take a tougher line with
Tehran after months of evidence showing Iran was assisting anti-US forces.
"If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops
and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly," the president said. "It
makes common sense for the commander in chief to say to our troops and the Iraqi
people and the Iraqi government that we will help you defend yourself from
people that want to sow discord and harm. And so we will do what it takes to
protect our troops."
Bush said it was important to distinguish the nuclear standoff with Iran from
the quarrel over Tehran's involvement in Iraq. He said he believed the dispute
over Iran's nuclear program could be resolved diplomatically.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said Bush does not have
authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional
Bush told NPR he had no intention of going into Iran. "This is the kind of
thing that happens in Washington," the president said. "People ascribe, you
know, motives to me beyond a simple statement - 'Of course we'll protect
our troops.' I don't know how anybody can then say, 'Well, protecting the troops
means that we're going to invade Iran.'"