In a warning to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Bush said Thursday that Iran is a danger to the Middle East and promised...
WASHINGTON — In a warning to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Bush said Thursday that Iran is a danger to the Middle East and promised that if al-Maliki does not share that view, the president would have a “heart-to-heart” talk with him.
Bush, appearing at a White House news conference, denounced Iran for its support of terrorist groups and for its nuclear program and threats to Israel. He warned that the Shiite Muslim country would face unspecified “consequences” if it continued to provide explosives that kill and injure U.S. troops.
His comments came as al-Maliki, a Shiite, wrapped up a visit to Iran, where he held apparently harmonious meetings with top Iranian officials. On Wednesday, al-Maliki met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other leaders. In a joint appearance, al-Maliki told Ahmadinejad that Iran has a “positive and constructive” role in improving security in Iraq, the official IRNA news agency reported.
On Thursday night, Iranian television broadcast a statement from Khamenei, declaring, “We support the elected government of Iraq, and all of the factions and ethnic groups should cooperate with the elected government. The only problem, the big problem in Iraq today, is the occupation of Iraq by British and American forces.”
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Bush said he wanted to be briefed by U.S. officials in Baghdad, before drawing conclusions about the meetings in Tehran. But he said, “My message to the Iranian people is, ‘You can do better than the current government.’ “
Iraq was not the only neighbor of Iran whose leader provoked a comment from Bush this week. At a White House appearance Monday, after Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai declared that Iran had “been a helper” to his country, Bush insisted that “they’re not a force for good.”
Behind the scenes, the president’s top aides have been engaged in an intensive internal debate over how to respond to Iran’s support for Shiite Muslim groups in Iraq and Iran’s nuclear program.
Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy.
The debate has been accompanied by a growing drumbeat of allegations about Iranian meddling in Iraq from U.S. military officers, administration officials and administration allies outside government and in the news media. Iran has long-standing ties to several Iraqi Shiite groups, including the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organization, which is allied with al-Maliki’s U.S.-backed government.
In addition to Shiite militias, including those linked to Iran, administration officials have blamed the Sunni Muslim group al-Qaida in Iraq for much of the violence in Iraq.
The United States appears to be pursuing stepped-up military operations in Iraq aimed at the suspected Iranian networks there, but also direct American-Iranian talks in Baghdad to try to persuade Iran to halt its alleged meddling.
The U.S. military launched one such raid Wednesday in Baghdad’s predominantly Shiite Sadr City district.
But that course so far has failed to halt what U.S. military officials say is a flow of sophisticated roadside bombs. Last month they accounted for one-third of the combat deaths among U.S.-led forces, according to the military.