Iran a Nuclear Threat, Bush Insists
    By Robin Wright
    The Washington Post
    Friday 21 March 2008Experts say president is wrong and is escalating tensions.    President Bush said Thursday that Iran has declared that it wants to be a nuclear power with a weapon to “destroy people,” including others in the Middle East, contradicting the judgments of a recent U.S. intelligence estimate.    The president spoke in an interview intended to reach out to the Iranian public on the Persian new year and to express “moral support” for struggling freedom movements, particularly among youth and women. It was designed to stress U.S. support for Iran’s quest for nuclear energy and the prospects that Washington and Tehran can “reconcile their differences” if Iran cooperates with the international community to ensure that the effort is not converted into a weapons program.    But most striking was Bush’s accusation that Iran has openly declared its nuclear weapons intentions, even though a National Intelligence Estimate concluded in December that Iran had stopped its weapons program in 2003, a major reversal in the long-standing U.S. assessment.    “They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people – some in the Middle East. And that’s unacceptable to the United States, and it’s unacceptable to the world,” Bush told U.S.-funded Radio Farda, which broadcasts into Iran in Farsi.    Experts on Iran and nuclear proliferation said the president’s statement was wrong. “That’s as uninformed as [Sen. John] McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda. Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true. It’s a little troubling that the president and the leading Republican candidate are both so wrong about Iran,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.    Others said it is unclear whether the president believes what he said or was deliberately distorting Iran’s position.    “The Iranian government is on the record across the board as saying it does not want a nuclear weapon. There’s plenty of room for skepticism about these assertions. But it’s troubling for the administration to indicate that Iran is explicitly embracing the program as a means of destroying another country,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran specialist at the State Department until last year and now at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.    National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush was referring to previous Iranian statements about wiping Israel off the map. “The president shorthanded his answer with regard to Iran’s previously secret nuclear weapons program and their current enrichment and ballistic missile testing,” Johndroe said.    In two interviews beamed into Iran, Bush expressed deep respect for Iranian history and culture. In a second interview with the Voice of America’s Persian News Network, Bush said: “Please don’t be discouraged by the slogans that say America doesn’t like you, because we do, and we respect you.”    But analysts warned that Bush’s statement on Iran’s nuclear intentions could escalate tensions when U.S. strategy for the first time in three decades is to persuade Iran to join international talks in exchange for suspending its uranium enrichment, a process used for peaceful nuclear energy that can be converted for use in a weapons program. “The bellicose rhetoric from one side only produces the same from the other,” Maloney said.    Signaling further pressure on Tehran, the administration also issued a warning on Thursday to U.S. financial institutions about the dangers of doing business with Iranian banks because of inadequate checks on money laundering and the growing risks to the international financial system posed by Iran’s financial sector. “The government of Iran disguises its involvement in proliferation and terrorism activities through an array of deceptive practices,” the Treasury Department said.    The advisory lists 59 major banks or their branches in cities such as Athens, Hong Kong, London and Moscow. It includes Iran’s Central Bank and covers many banks not facing sanctions from the United Nations or the United States.    The Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said that Iran’s Central Bank and commercial banks started asking that their names be removed from global transactions to make it more difficult for intermediary financial institutions to determine their true identity or origin.    The United States recently imposed new restrictions on dealings with Bahrain-based Future Bank, which is controlled by Iran’s Bank Melli.    “Over the past eight days, the U.S. government has undertaken a number of steps to put Tehran on notice that the international community will not allow the Iranian government to misuse the international financial system or global transportation network to further its aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons capability, improve its missile systems, or support international terrorism,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.    ———    Staff writers Michael Abramowitz and William Branigin contributed to this report. 

    Go to Original     Bush Erroneously Says Iran Announced Desire for Nuclear Weapons
    By Jonathan S. Landay
    McClatchy Newspapers
    Thursday 20 March 2008    Washington – President Bush contended that Iran has “declared they want a nuclear weapon to destroy people” and that the Islamic Republic could be hiding a secret program.    Iran, however, has never publicly proclaimed a desire for nuclear weapons and has repeatedly insisted that the uranium enrichment program it’s operating in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions is for civilian power plants, not warheads.    Bush made his assertion Wednesday in an interview marking the Iranian New Year with Radio Farda, a U.S. government-run radio service that broadcasts into Iran in the Farsi language. The White House released the transcript on Thursday.    The president reiterated his view that Iran has a right to civilian nuclear power. But, he said, the low-enriched uranium fuel for its reactors should be supplied by Russia, a proposal that Tehran has repeatedly rejected.    “The problem is the (Iranian) government cannot be trusted to enrich uranium because one, they’ve hidden programs in the past and they may be hiding one now. Who knows?” said Bush.    “Secondly, they’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people, some in the Middle East. And that is unacceptable to the United States and it’s unacceptable to the world.”    Iran has repeatedly denied seeking nuclear warheads, and its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious edict in 2005 forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons.    Asked about the president’s comment, Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said Bush had “shorthanded” Iran’s desire “to wipe Israel off the map,” its refusal to heed U.N. Security Council demands to suspend its enrichment work and Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles.    Asked if Iran could exploit Bush’s inaccurate comment for political purposes, Johndroe replied: “I’m not concerned about that. If they want to spin it a certain way, they can do it any way they want. They have still called for Israel to be wiped off the map and are in violation of three U.N. Security Council resolutions.”    Speaking in October 2005 at a “World Without Zionism” conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted by state-run Iranian media as saying that “Israel must be wiped off the map.”    Some experts, however, disputed the translation, saying that Ahmadinejad’s comment couldn’t be interpreted as a threat to use force against Israel.    Meanwhile, the State Department announced targeted new restrictions on a bank in Bahrain, which is controlled by the Iran-based Bank Melli, and additional scrutiny of any vessel calling at a U.S. port that has recently visited Iran. It said Iran hadn’t maintained “effective anti-terrorism measures” at its ports.    “The international community will not allow the Iranian government to misuse the international financial system or global transportation network to further its aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons capability, improve its missile systems or support international terrorism,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.    The Treasury Department also warned U.S. banks that Iran is using “an array of deceptive practices” to circumvent international financial sanctions.    The department said that it is “particularly concerned that the central bank of Iran may be facilitating transactions for sanctioned Iranian banks.”    In the Radio Farda interview, Bush said, “There’s a chance that the U.S. and Iran could reconcile their differences,” but only if Iran verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment program.    “The Iranian people have got to understand that the United States is going to be firm in our desire to prevent the nation from developing a nuclear weapon, but reasonable in our desire to see to it that you have a civilian nuclear program . . . without enabling the government to enrich.”    Enrichment produces both low-enriched uranium, which is used to fuel nuclear power plants, and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, depending on the duration of the process.    Iran kept its program hidden for 18 years until its disclosure by an Iranian opposition group in 2002.    A December 2007 U.S. intelligence report said Iran halted work on nuclear weapons four years earlier, but could restart it.    Tehran has refused to comply with three U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend the program while the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency completes an investigation and institutes strict safeguards to ensure the project isn’t being used for weapons.  ——- 

Annan Warns Against Conflict With Iran
    The Associated Press
    Thursday 20 March 2008    New York – Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Thursday that military action against Iran would be “a real disaster” and said the Middle East could explode if the international community doesn’t handle the many conflicts in the region very carefully.    He also said there was “quite a bit of hypocrisy on all sides” in trying to resolve the five-year conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region – especially in encouraging the African Union to take on peacekeeping when it didn’t have the resources.    At a wide-ranging round-table with journalists, Annan said he didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment until it allays suspicions its nuclear program is trying to produce weapons. Tehran insists the program is peaceful, aimed only at using nuclear power to generate electricity.    Annan said he had told Iranian leaders that “if indeed you have nothing to hide and you are not making a bomb and your intentions are pacific, open your doors, let the inspectors come, let them go anywhere – find a way of reassuring the world, not just the U.S.”    Asked how the international community should deal with Iran, he said dialogue was the only way.    “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it. It would be a real disaster,” he said.    Calling the broader Middle East “a very dangerous region,” Annan said that “many conflicts have converged and are feeding off each other, and the international community has to handle that situation very carefully because any miscalculation can lead to very serious explosions.”    He said Lebanon’s political crisis and inability to elect a president was “very worrying,” adding that it was a bit like the infighting among the Palestinians, which pits the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas against the Islamic militants of Hamas.    Annan also cited the dangers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Sunni-Shiite divide in Iraq and other Mideast countries, and unrest in Afghanistan and Pakistan.    On Darfur, he criticized wealthy nations with well-equipped militaries for refusing to provide essential helicopters for the joint U.N.-African Union force that took over peacekeeping there early this year.    He urged U.N. member states to heed the warning of peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno that the world body’s peacekeeping operations are overstretched with more than 100,000 troops in the field.    “I don’t think the U.N. is in a position today to go and take over in Afghanistan,” he said. “I don’t think the U.N. will get the resources to go and play a major and active role in Somalia. We are already struggling to get the resources for Darfur, where some have declared it a genocide.”    Annan was in New York to receive the first MacArthur Award for International Justice from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. As U.N. secretary-general, he promoted the concept of an international “responsibility to protect” that was adopted by world leaders at a 2005 summit.    He said his recent successful mediation after Kenya’s post-election violence “was a hopeful example” of putting this responsibility into practice.  

    Go to Original    Annan Says UN Is “Overstretched” by Global Conflicts
    By Warren Hoge
    The New York Times
    Friday 21 March 2008    United Nations – Kofi Annan, the former secretary general, said Thursday that the United Nations was “overstretched” in conflict areas and should resist taking on new responsibilities as long as major powers proved unwilling to supply needed support.    “I don’t think the U.N. is in a position today to go in and take over in Afghanistan; I don’t think the U.N. will get the resources to play a major and active role in Somalia,” he said. “We are already struggling to get the resources in Darfur, where some have declared it a genocide.”    The United Nations, he said, must make clear what it can and cannot do. “To create the impression of action when nothing is happening is, I think, more damaging,” he said, in a conversation with journalists who cover the United Nations.    On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, he said he backed Security Council resolutions putting pressure on its government to stop enrichment of uranium, but he warned that taking military steps to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons would be “a real disaster.” He said, “We cannot, I am sure, take another military action, in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”    It was Mr. Annan’s first conversation with United Nations journalists since completing his second five-year term in office on Dec. 31, 2006. He divides his time between Geneva and his native Ghana and was in New York to receive an international justice award from the MacArthur Foundation at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on Thursday evening.    He said the United Nations’ current difficulties in trying to get 26,000 peacekeeping troops into Darfur, the troubled Sudan region, to replace an underequipped 7,000-member African Union force illustrated the quandary that the organization faced. “We have these conflicts where no one really wants to get involved, powerful countries with means will not touch it with a barge pole, they will support weak, ineffectual initiatives by others, sometimes by a subregional or regional organization, to create the impression of action,” he said.    “I can understand why some countries will not put troops on the ground in Darfur for reasons I think we can accept,” he said. “But I cannot understand why they cannot spare a couple of helicopters.” The United Nations says the force needs 24 helicopters to patrol the vast Darfur area, but thus far no country has responded to repeated requests for them from the current secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.    Mr. Annan was asked about Mr. Ban’s preference for one-on-one negotiations with foreign leaders in private and free of public comment in contrast to his own practice of making broad statements on international responsibilities. “I did it my way, and I think he should do it his way,” Mr. Annan said. “But I believe there is a bully pulpit that a secretary general should use.”    He was also asked about the perception of some member states that Mr. Ban was overly influenced by the United States. Mr. Annan came to office a favorite of Washington but fell out of favor with the Bush administration after the Security Council refused in 2003 to endorse the invasion of Iraq. He later said the war violated international law.    “Almost every secretary general at one point or the other is perceived as close to the Americans and at another point fighting the Americans with their daggers drawn,” Mr. Annan said. “It comes with the territory.”  ——-