President Bush has backed away from an initial claim the Iranian government is directly responsible for sophisticated roadside bombs killing U.S. troops in Iraq. At a news conference Wednesday, the president said he stills believes the bombs are coming from Iran, but admitted he did not know if the Iranian government was directly involved.
President Bush: "What we do know is that the Quds Force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. We know that. And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. That’s a known. What we don’t know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did. But here’s my point: Either they knew or didn’t know. And what matters is that they’re there. What’s worse, that the government knew or that the government didn’t know?"
The president’s comments follow days of apparent confusion over the administration’s stance. Pentagon officials initially claimed the weapons shipments were being directed at the highest levels of the Iranian government. But just one day later top U.S. military leader General Peter Pace admitted he did not know if the Iranian government was involved. Several analysts have also questioned the claim the bombs are coming from Iran to begin with. Most bombing attacks against U.S. troops are believed to come from the same Sunni groups that the Iranian government opposes.
President Bush also rejected speculation the new accusations are part of an effort to lay a pretext for war. But he said the White House rejection of unconditional talks with Iran has not changed.
President Bush: "If I thought we could achieve success, I would sit down. But I don’t think we can achieve success right now, and therefore we’ll want to work with other nations. I think we’re more likely to achieve our goals when others are involved, as well."
The latest developments come amid new revelations about the secret Iranian peace offer the Bush administration dismissed nearly four years ago. A leaked memo shows the Swiss ambassador who transmitted the overture explicitly told U.S. officials that both supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then-President Mohammad Khatami had approved it. Iran reportedly offered full cooperation on its nuclear program, recognition of Israel and termination of support for Palestinian militant groups. The proposal was sent just weeks after the U.S. invaded Iraq. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage recently claimed it was dismissed in part because officials couldn’t determine which proposals came from the Iranian government and which came from the Swiss ambassador.
Also at his news conference Wednesday, President Bush refused to answer questions over whether he will pardon Lewis "Scooter" Libby if Libby is convicted at his perjury and obstruction trial. Libby’s defense attorneys rested their case later in the day. Closing arguments begin next week.
On Capitol Hill, the House continues debate on the nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq.
Rep. Congressmember Loretta Sanchez (D-Ca.): "He wants to send 21,000 more of our men and women to Iraq to carry out the same failure. The president has failed to articulate what these new troops will do that is different from what has been done over the past few years. What is his plan?"
The resolution is attracting growing support from dissenting Republicans. At least 12 Republican congressmembers said Wednesday they will vote to oppose the escalation of the war. Republican Congressmember Rick Renzi of Arizona isn’t one of them.
Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Az.): "We need to take responsibility, all of us, for our words and our actions. We need to understand the effect this flawed resolution has on the morale of our soldiers overseas and the effect it will have on the desires of our allies to team with us in the future. Finally, it needs to take responsibility, all of us, for the encouragement this resolution gives to our enemies."
The House is expected to vote on Friday.
In other Iraq news, the Bush administration has announced new changes to its policy on Iraqi refugees. Around 7,000 Iraqis will now be allowed into the United States. Just 600 refugees have been let in since the U.S. invasion. The administration has also pledged $18 million to the U.N.’s aid program for Iraq refugees but is refusing to fund the full $60 million emergency appeal. An estimated 40,000 Iraqis flee Iraq each month.
The Parliament of the European Union has issued a new rebuke of the CIA practice of secretly transferring and jailing prisoners and of the countries that aided the program. On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted to accept a report criticizing 15 European countries and Turkey for helping the CIA’s extraordinary rendition and then failing to cooperate with an investigation into their activities.
Carlos Coelho, chair of the EU Investigating Committee: "The council did not behave in a loyal cooperation as the treaty oblige every European institutions. They lied to the Parliament, when they pretend to supply documents, pretending they were the real documents. In fact, they were a short part of the real documents. We know that because we got from a confidential source the real document after."
At least 1,200 CIA flights were found to have passed through Europe. The report was adopted after Parliament voted to delete sections calling for sanctions against several countries for violating human rights. Lawmakers had faced intense pressure to accept the watered-down version. Baroness Sarah Ludford of the investigating committee also addressed the European Parliament.
Baroness Sarah Ludford:"What the U.S. needs is not to be feared but to be respected. I don’t rejoice in the fact that the latest survey in global opinion finds that antagonism against America at an intense pitch. Even in Poland, fewer than four out of 10 have a positive view of the U.S. Europe has failed a test in the last five years, a test of whether it will practice its values or only preach them. We’ve lacked the gut to refuse to collude with torture flights, and lacked the vision to use Europe’s capacity to be a real and united best friend to America, and it’s about time that we actually practiced those values."
Meanwhile, the Swiss government has also announced a new investigation into whether the CIA flight carrying an Egyptian cleric seized in Italy passed through Swiss airspace. The cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was sent to a prison in Egypt.
A Dutch oil trading company has agreed to pay a nearly $200 million settlement over a toxic spill that led to a major environmental crisis in the Ivory Coast. At least eight people were killed after an oil tanker dumped hundreds of tons of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan. Another 100,000 people sought medical treatment. The company, Trafigura, says the payment is not an admission of guilt. Environmental groups including Greenpeace are calling the settlement inadequate. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of victims has been filed in Britain.
Mozambique’s top relief agency is appealing for aid after massive flooding that has displaced and cut off tens of thousands of people.
Paulo Zucula of Mozambique’s National Relief Agency: "Some food is available in the country. We still have to transport food from one place to another place. As we have seen it, in some places, we have to evaluate it. In some places it has to go by boat. In some places we have to take it by air. In some places we still can drive. But even though, the food we have is not enough for a month for the people you saw today. So we will need some help in terms of food."
An estimated 50,000 people have been displaced. The crisis could get worse as rains intensify in the next few weeks.
Back in the United States, a new scandal is unfolding at the Justice Department today. Nine months before agreeing to delay an environmental cleanup by the energy giant ConocoPhillips, the government’s top environmental prosecutor purchased a million-dollar vacation home with the company’s vice president and its top lobbyist. The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Sue Ellen Wooldridge, resigned last month. Just before departing, she agreed to grant ConocoPhillips as much as three more years to install pollution controls at nine of its refineries.
In voting news, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has introduced a bill that would ban paperless voting. The resolution would require all electronic machines to a produce a verifiable paper record. The measure follows a similar House bill introduced by New Jersey Democratic Congressmember Rush Holt last week.
In election news, the radio host and comic Al Franken has announced plans to run for the Senate in 2008. Franken will challenge Republican incumbent Norm Coleman for the Minnesota seat once held by the late Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone. Franken made the announcement on his last day at Air America Radio.
The United States has finished next to last in a U.N. survey of child welfare in the world’s wealthiest countries. The U.S. is ranked at number 20, behind only Britain.
And students at a number of schools across the nation are walking out of the classroom today in a national student strike against the Iraq War. Both college and high school students are taking part.