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Bush Warns Congress Not to Interfere on Iraq

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush said today that Iran has sent sophisticated weapons into Iraq, weapons used against American troops. But he said it is unclear if the top-levels of the Iranian government are involved. In his first news conference of the year, the president warned lawmakers on Capitol Hill not to cut off funding for his troop increase in Iraq. He also took credit for the new nuclear deal with North Korea, but he cautioned that North Korea must now prove that they're in fact dismantling their nuclear program. In a few minutes we'll hear about the elite Iranian force that the president says is working inside Iraq.

First, NPR's David Greene begins our coverage from the White House.

DAVID GREENE: The president called the nuclear agreement with North Korea unique, although in many respects it parallels another reached in 1994 by President Clinton. In exchange for shutting down its primary reactor, North Korea will be getting economic aid, as it did after the 1994 agreement. But Mr. Bush insisted that what sets this agreement apart is that he's brought other countries, like China and South Korea on board, to help hold Pyongyang accountable.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We had a breakthrough as a result of other voices than the United States saying to the North Koreans we don't support your nuclear weapons program and we urge you to get rid of it in a verifiable way.

GREENE: Among those who still doubt North Korea's word is John Bolton, until recently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton says North Korea is sure to deceive its neighbors just as it has deceived the U.S., to which Mr. Bush responded -

President BUSH: I strongly disagree, strongly disagree with his assessment.

GREENE: For the president to rebuke a former adviser was surprising. After all, the Bush White House prides itself on keeping people on message, even officials who've recently left. But the administration has struggled this week with its message on Iran as well. The White House and military briefers in Baghdad had accused people at the highest levels of Iran's government of approving shipments of high-grade weapons to certain factions in Iraq.

But then, General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was not clear that top officials in Iran were involved. Mr. Bush was asked today to sort this out, and he acknowledged that Pace is right, it's not clear Iran's leadership is pushing weaponry into Iraq. But the president said he's sure an arm of Iran's revolutionary guard, the Quds Force, has been getting materials to Iraq.

President BUSH: We know they're there. We know they've provided by the Quds Force. We know the Quds Force is a party of the Iranian government. I think we know that who picked up the phone and said the Quds Force, go do this, well, we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government. What matters is that we're responding.

GREENE: The president was also asked to respond to a recent combined intelligence report from all the U.S. spy agencies that called the conflict in Iraq a civil war.

President BUSH: No matter what you call it it's a complex situation and it needed to be dealt with inside of Iraq. We've got people who say civil war. We've got people on the ground who don't believe it's a civil war. But nevertheless, it was dangerous enough that I had to make a decision to try to stop it.

GREENE: His decision to send more troops to Baghdad is the subject of a week long debate in the House right now. Mr. Bush said the lawmakers are free to express their views, but he warned them to watch what they say.

President BUSH: The Iraqi people listen to the words, the Iranians, people are wondering. They're wondering about our commitment to this cause.

GREENE: That's the kind of warning Democrats haven't appreciated, but the president said one thing about Iraq the opposition will likely agree on.

President BUSH: I can talk all day long. But what really matters to the American people is to see progress.

David Greene, NPR News, The White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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