WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush said Tuesday that the international community should continue to pressure Iran on its nuclear programs, saying a new intelligence report finding that Tehran halted its development of a nuclear bomb provides an opportunity.
"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program," Bush said. "The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."
Bush spoke one day after a new national intelligence estimate found that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, largely because of international scrutiny and pressure. That finding is in stark contrast to the comparable intelligence estimate of just two years ago, when U.S. intelligence agencies believed Tehran was determined to develop a nuclear weapons capability and was continuing its weapons development program.
It is also stood in marked contrast to Bush's rhetoric on Iran. At his last news conference on Oct. 17, for instance, he said that people "interested in avoiding World War III" should be working to prevent Iran from having the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon.
Bush said Tuesday that he only learned of the new intelligence assessment last week. But he portrayed it as valuable ammunition against Tehran, not as a reason to lessen diplomatic pressure.
"To me, the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community - to continue to rally the community - to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program," the president said. "What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program."
He also asserted that the report means "nothing's changed."
"I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger," he said. "I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace. My opinion hasn't changed."
Bush called the news conference, his first in nearly seven weeks, to intensify pressure on lawmakers amid disputes over spending and the Iraq war. Taking advantage of his veto power and the largest bully pulpit in town, Bush regularly scolds Congress as a way to stay relevant and frame the debate as his presidency winds down.
Democrats counter that Bush is more interested in making statements than genuinely trying to negotiate some common ground with them.
Specifically, Bush again on Tuesday challenged Congress to send him overdue spending bills; to approve his latest war funding bill without conditions; to pass a temporary to fix to the alternative minimum tax so millions of taxpayers don't get hit with tax increases; and to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"Congress still has a lot to do," Bush said. "It doesn't have very much time to do it."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)