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Bush Hawks Turn Sights on Iran, Favor Confrontation
Fri May 30, 6:09 PM ET
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By Jonathan Wright

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hawks in the Bush administration have turned their sights on Iran, repeating accusations similar to those they deployed to portray Iraq (news - web sites) as an imminent threat and win public support for war.


But this time moderates in the administration are likely to put up tougher opposition to military action against Iran or covert support for Iranian opposition groups, officials say.

President Bush (news - web sites), in an interview broadcast on Russia's Rossiya television channel on Friday, said reports of U.S. plans to attack Iran were "pure speculation."

"We've had all kinds of reports that we're going to use force against Syria and now some on the left, I guess, are saying force in Iran or force here and force there. You know, it's pure speculation," said Bush, who denied for months that the United States had any plans to attack Iraq.

ABC News said this week the Defense Department was advocating a massive covert action program to overthrow the Iranian government as the only way to stop the country's nuclear program, which Washington says is for making bombs.

A State Department official, who asked not to be named, said Defense Department hawks and allies in Washington's neoconservative think tanks had not presented any formal plans but were encouraging such speculation in leaks to the media.

"What the neoconservatives do is they go to the media and then they tell us there are some interesting things we should look at in this or that report," said the official.

The term neoconservatives refers to ideologues in and around the Bush administration who believe in the liberal use of military might abroad to serve U.S. interests.

They are most strongly represented at the Pentagon (news - web sites), through Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary Douglas Feith and William Luti, the deputy assistant secretary in charge of special plans, the Middle East and South Asia.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has charged Tehran was not doing enough against al Qaeda members allegedly in Iran and that the United States would "aggressively put down" any attempt by Iranian leaders to remake Iraq in Iran's image.

All branches of the Bush administration have complained repeatedly about Iran's nuclear programs, but State Department officials say they believe there is still room for diplomacy.

It was the same conjunction of links with "terrorists" and weapons of mass destruction that formed the rhetorical basis for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March. Washington has since had trouble producing evidence of either.

The Bush administration had planned a high-level meeting to review policy on Iran this week but put off the talks indefinitely amid deep internal divisions.

Michael Ledeen, one of the leading neoconservatives, put the hawkish view in the National Review Online on Tuesday, saying Iranian mullahs had an "active involvement" in the May 12 bombings on the Saudi capital Riyadh.

"Three days before the Riyadh attacks, 17 al Qaeda members were quietly moved to the Sistan and Baluchistan areas at the Pakistan border, hoping to conceal the Iranian connection, but it was uncovered anyway," he wrote.

State Department officials, who rely on information from their allies in the CIA (news - web sites), say such conclusions are premature.

"We're at the stage of analyzing what they are doing. ... First we have to decide what we know and then we can talk about options," one State Department official said.


Iran denies the al Qaeda charges.

"The recent arrests were made before the Riyadh explosions so, therefore, the accusations that the Riyadh explosions were controlled and planned from Iran are totally baseless. Prisoners cannot control a military mission," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told a news conference on Friday.

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