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.