U.S. President George W.
Bush, in a Feb. 17 news conference announcing that John Negroponte would be the nation's first Director of National Intelligence, told reporters that he could understand why
Israel may feel so threatened by statements from
Iran that it would want to attack that country's nuclear facilities.
While not outright endorsing such an attack, the President indicated that in such a situation the United States would be sympathetic to Israel, the second such hint from an administration official. Earlier this year,
Vice President Dick Cheney told reporters that Israel might feel compelled to launch such an attack.
Here is a transcript of President Bush's exchange with reporters, as provided by the White House:
Q Mr. President, I recall a conversation a small group of us with a very senior administration official about a year ago, and in that conversation, the subject of Iran and Israel came up. And I'm just wondering, what's your level of concern that if Iran does go down the road to building a nuclear weapon, that Israel will attack Iran to try to prevent that from happening?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course the -- well, first of all, Iran has made it clear they -- that they don't like Israel, to put it bluntly. And the Israelis are concerned about whether or not Iran develops a nuclear weapon, as are we, as should everybody.
And so the objective is to solve this issue diplomatically, is to work with friends, like we're doing with
France, Europe, and -- I mean, France, Germany, and Great Britain, to continue making it clear to the Iranians that developing a nuclear weapon will be unacceptable.
But clearly, if I was the leader of Israel, and I listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs about -- that regarded my security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon, as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if -- if there's a -- if their security is threatened.
Q Do you believe there's a real possibility Israel could attack?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I -- John, I think that there's a -- the need for us to work together to convince the Iranians not to develop a nuclear weapon. And we will work with Europeans and the Israelis to develop a strategy and a plan that is effective. And that's one of the reasons I'm going to Europe.
The President also was asked at the news conference if the recent recall of the U.S. ambassador from
Syria meant America believed Syria was responsible for the assassination in Beirut of
Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
He responded: "First, we support the international investigation that is -- will be going on to determine the killers of Mr. Hariri. We've recalled our ambassador, which indicates that the relationship is not moving forward, that Syria is out of step with the progress being made in a greater Middle East, that democracy is on the move. And this is a country that isn't moving with the democratic movement.
"And we've talked clearly to Syria about, one, making sure that their territory is not used by former
Iraqi Baathists to spread havoc and kill innocent lives. We expect them to find and turn over former regime -- Saddam regime supporters, send them back to Iraq. We've made it very clear from the beginning of my administration that Syria should not use its territory to support international terrorist groups. We expect them to adhere to 1559 --
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the removal of troops from Lebanon. And we expect them to help free and fair elections to take place in Lebanon.
"These are very reasonable requests, the requests all aimed at making the world more peaceful. I look forward to working with our European friends on my upcoming trip to talk about how we can work together to convince the Syrians to make rational decisions."
In a follow up question, a reporter suggested the President still hadn't answered whether the Syrians bore responsibility.
To this, Bush replied: " I can't tell you that. I don't know yet, because the investigation is ongoing. And so I'm going to withhold judgment until we find out what the facts are. Hopefully by the time I get overseas (Europe), we'll have a clearer understanding of who killed Mr. Hariri, and it will be an opportune time to talk with our friends, to determine what to do about it.
"But it's important that this investigation go on in a thoughtful way, and I'm convinced it will. We supported the international...investigation."
The President also responded to a question about how he'd like to see the Middle East change in the next year. His response follows:
"You know, a year is a really short period of time when it comes to working on -- working with nations to encourage democracy. So there's not a kind of a universal answer. But let me try -- let me try to answer it this way, because it's not -- in other words, you can't apply the same standard for every country as they move toward democracy, I guess, is what I'm saying. In other words, there's kind of not a blanket answer.
"I'll give you kind of a general thought. I would like to see the following things happen: we make progress on the development of a
Palestinian state, so there can be peace with Israel. And notice I put it that way: There needs to progress for democracy to take -- firmly take hold in the Palestinian Territory. It is my belief that that -- when that happens, that we've got a very good chance for peace. That's why I said in my State of the Union, it's within reach. What's in reach is to work with leadership that appears committed to fighting terror to develop the institutions necessary for democracy.
"That's why the conference Tony Blair has called is an important conference. It's a conference that we'll be working with the world, with countries from around the world to say, how can we help you develop a democracy. And so I'd like to see that move forward.
"Obviously, I'd like to see the Iraqi government continue to make the progress it is making toward providing its own security, as well as begin the process of writing the constitution. We will continue to work with the international community to make it clear that some of the behavior in the Middle East is unacceptable. The development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Harboring terrorists, or providing safe haven for terrorists is unacceptable. And so there's a lot of progress that can be made.
"I was pleased to see that Saudi
had municipal elections. And I think Crown Prince Abdallah's vision of moving toward reform is coming to be. Every speech I've given on democracy is -- I fully recognize that democracy will advance at a pace that may be different from our own expectations and obviously reflect the cultures of the countries in which democracy is moving. But there's progress being made, and so it's kind of hard to have a summary because there's different countries, different places. But if I try to come up with one, I'd like to see more advance toward a free and -- free and democratic states.
"What's interesting -- and surely hasn't crept into your writing or reporting -- but for a while there was a period that people said, it's an impossible mission to have freedom take hold; I mean, what was he doing, how can he possibly think that these people can possibly accept democracy? I don't know if you remember that period of reporting or not. I vaguely do. And then look what's happening. And that's why I can say, John, that I'd like to see more progress because progress is being made.
Afghanistan elections were a remarkable achievement in the march of history.
"The elections that John was involved in Iraq, and was -- it must have been fantastic to be there. It was -- to think of the millions who defied the terrorists. And you remember the reporting that went on -- first of all, democracy may not be the kind of system that people agree to in Iraq, it's kind of a foreign concept to them, and coupled with the fact there's a lot of terrorists there who are getting ready to blow anybody up who goes and votes. And yet, millions -- I think it's over eight million now, I think, we've calculated -- went to the polls.
"And what's interesting to me in Iraq is to see the posturing that's going on, kind of the positioning. It's not exactly like the Social Security debate, but it's posturing, it's politics. People are jockeying for position. And I say it's not like the Social Security debate because their, obviously, democracy isn't as advanced as ours. But nevertheless, there's -- people are making moves here and there. And you hear about the conferences and the discussions. To me, that's healthy. It's inspiring to see a fledgling democracy begin to take -- take wing right here in the 21st century in a part of the world where people didn't think there could be progress. I think there can be progress, and we'll continue to work that progress.
"Part of my reason I'm going to Europe is to share my sense of optimism and enthusiasm about what's taking place and remind people that that's -- that those values of human rights, human dignity, and freedom are the core of our very being as nations. And it's going to be a great experience to go there."