Q Mr. President, thank you. I'd like to follow on that. When you talked about Iraq, you and others in the administration talked about a mushroom cloud; then there were no WMD in Iraq. When it came to Iran, you said in October, on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat? And don't you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?
THE PRESIDENT: David, I don't want to contradict an august reporter such as yourself, but I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze. Why would you take time to analyze new information? One, you want to make sure it's not disinformation. You want to make sure the piece of intelligence you have is real. And secondly, they want to make sure they understand the intelligence they gathered: If they think it's real, then what does it mean? And it wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.
And the second part of your question has to do with this. Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. The NIE says that Iran had a hidden -- a covert nuclear weapons program. That's what it said. What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program? And the best way to ensure that the world is peaceful in the future is for the international community to continue to work together to say to the Iranians, we're going to isolate you. However, there is a better way forward for the Iranians.
Now, in 2003, the Iranian government began to come to the table in discussions with the EU-3, facilitated by the United States. In other words, we said to the EU-3, we'll support your efforts to say to the Iranians, you have a choice to make: You can continue to do policy that will isolate you, or there's a better way forward, so that it was the sticks-and-carrots approach.
You might remember the United States said at that point in time, we'll put the WTO on the table for consideration, or we'll help you with spare parts for your airplanes. It was all an attempt to take advantage of what we thought was a more open-minded Iranian regime at the time -- a willingness of this regime to talk about a way forward. And then the Iranians had elections, and Ahmadinejad announced that -- to the IAEA that he was going to -- this is after, by the way, the Iranians had suspended their enrichment program -- he said, we're going to stop the suspension, we'll start up the program again. And that's where we are today.
My point is, is that there is a better way forward for the Iranians. There has been a moment during my presidency in which diplomacy provided a way forward for the Iranians. And our hope is we can get back on that path again. But what is certain is that if Iran ever had the knowledge to develop a nuclear weapon and they passed that knowledge on to a covert program, which at one time in their history has existed, the world would be more dangerous. And now is the time for the international community to work together.
Q Mr. President, thank you. Just to follow, I understand what you're saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as "World War III" was making it into conversation, at no point nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, maybe you want to back it down a little bit?
THE PRESIDENT: No, nobody ever told me that. Having said -- having laid that out, I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger. Nothing has changed in this NIE that says, okay, why don't we just stop worrying about it. Quite the contrary. I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace. My opinion hasn't changed.
And I just explained, Jim, that if you want to avoid a really problematic situation in the Middle East, now is the time to continue to work together. That's our message to our allies, and it's an important message for them to hear. And here's the reason why: In order for a nation to develop a nuclear weapons program they must have the materials from which to make a bomb, the know-how on how to take that material and make it explode, and a delivery system.
Now, the Iranians -- the most difficult aspect of developing a weapons program, or as some would say, the long pole in the tent, is enriching uranium. This is a nation -- Iran is a nation that is testing ballistic missiles. And it is a nation that is trying to enrich uranium. The NIE says this is a country that had a covert nuclear weapons program, which, by the way, they have failed to disclose, even today. They have never admitted the program existed in the first place.
The danger is, is that they can enrich, play like they got a civilian program -- or have a civilian program, or claim it's a civilian program -- and pass the knowledge to a covert military program. And then the danger is, is at some point in the future, they show up with a weapon. And my comments are, now is the time to work together to prevent that scenario from taking place. It's in our interests.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007